What affects the fate of wind farms?

Why do some wind farm applications get approved, while others run up against insurmountable roadblocks? Finding an answer could ultimately affect whether a country meets its renewable energy targets. If the reasons behind rejections remain mysterious, developers could give up on attempting new wind energy projects.

To investigate, a team studied 354 wind farm applications from 1990 to 2011 in the Republic of Ireland. The projects covered 23 of the country’s 26 counties. The researchers then tried to figure out which factors increased the likelihood of success. They assessed dozens of possible variables, including wind speeds in the area, the size of the site, the number of turbines, the lengths of application process stages, the distance to the nearest town, and whether an environmental impact assessment had been done.

As one might expect, authorities often rejected applications because the wind farm would hinder other development or create an eyesore. But more subtle factors emerged as well. The longer the local appeal process, the more likely the farm was to get approved — perhaps because developers had more time to improve their application and address opponents’ concerns. “Further, a longer process may avoid knee jerk refusals which may be more likely if planning authorities… are placed under time pressure or have incomplete time to review relevant materials,” the team writes in Ecological Economics.

Projects on larger sites with higher wind speeds also were more likely to succeed. Surprisingly, the distance from the wind farm to towns didn’t seem to make much of a difference. “This suggests that NIMBYism does not influence Irish wind farm planning outcomes,” the researchers write. However, they also note that developers simply may not have bothered proposing sites too close to towns because they knew such applications would probably fail. And the authors caution that their results might not hold true outside of Ireland. Roberta Kwok | 29 January 2015

Source: Van Rensburg, T.M., H. Kelley, and N. Jeserich. 2015. What influences the probability of wind farm planning approval: Evidence from Ireland. Ecological Economics doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.12.012.

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