Wind energy is a valuable economic driver for rural communities. New development brings jobs to local areas, providing new customers for local businesses. Projects also provide direct annual payments to landowners who host turbines, giving them a new source of income.
Local communities and counties benefit as well. Projects add new property tax revenue – money to support essential services like schools, fire, and police.
Wind energy has grown into a thriving industry, especially in places like the Midwest and Great Plains with great wind energy resources. But this development has created new challenges for local communities and landowners.
As developers continue to look for new project locations, small towns and counties are working to craft requirements for wind energy development. While ordinances can be effective, they often do not touch on some of the main concerns of community members.
To examine what is being overlooked in wind energy ordinances, we authored Respect and Restore: Reassessing Local Wind Energy Standards. It provides an overview of ordinances and determines if they are lacking and for what issues.
Ordinances often give a developer setback, noise, flicker, and other requirements. But they leave out requirements for access roads, post-construction restoration, or ensuring public roads are repaired after a project is complete.
All of these issues are commonly mentioned by stakeholders, but are rarely addressed through local regulation. In fact, most restoration requirements focus solely on the decommissioning of projects at the end of their life, providing very few guidelines for prior restoration that may be needed.
Post-construction land restoration is an important issue to many landowners, as they want their land returned to them in good condition. Projects need to maintain access roads and an area around the base of a turbine.
But additional land is affected by the construction process, and without proper restoration the land will not be as workable for a landowner as it previously was. Similarly, heavy machinery can have a big impact on the condition of local roads, especially in rural areas where roads were not designed to handle heavy traffic.
Addressing these issues directly in local regulations will provide communities with peace of mind and give developers clear requirements for post-construction restoration. Developers should use local input early in the process to limit the need for restoration by using pre-disturbed areas or existing access roads.
It is important to identify solutions like these to improve the development process. As wind development continues to grow, it is essential that developers and local officials tackle the concerns experienced by people in the community.
Continuing to develop renewable wind energy brings real benefits to rural communities across the nation. To ensure these benefits aren’t realized at the expense of landowners and community members, wind energy projects must address the challenges presented by the construction process. You can see the report here.
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