Master of Arts
Environment and Sustainability
Wind turbines will continue to be an important part of the green energy transition in Canada. However, opposition to onshore wind projects from potential host communities has increased over time, and install rates are flattening. Dimensions such as NIMBYism, place, distance from turbines and connections to landscapes have proved relatively inadequate for explaining community attitudes. The value of community-based development models over developer-led models has had recent traction, however limited empirical investigation has been done. I used a mail-out mail-back survey in Ontario (n=192) and Nova Scotia (n=170), to communities with (n=172) and without (n=190) a community-based development model. Using mainly bivariate correlations and binomial logistic regression, I investigate two classes of predictors of preference for community-based models: those relating to one’s local project, and those relating to hypothetical wind development scenarios. Participatory decision-making and fair benefits distribution significantly predict positivity toward one’s local wind project, while a locals-focused investment scale is highly preferred (95%) but not significantly associated (low response heterogeneity). Unexpectedly, community-based development is not more associated with positivity than developer-led, while living in Nova Scotia instead of Ontario is. Residents near community-based wind projects are not significantly more likely to prefer a community-based hypothetical scenario, while positivity toward one’s local wind project (regardless of development model) is correlated with higher support for all hypothetical wind projects. Finally, residents prefer community-level benefits to individual-level benefits. These findings suggest a substantial renegotiation of how future community-based wind developments are implemented – historical context and community involvement being at the forefront.
Summary for Lay Audience
The energy sector, especially in countries with disproportionate energy usage per capita, is a large contributor to the climate crisis via carbon emissions. As a result, Canada has integrated renewable energy into its power grid, most notably wind energy, which is suitable for its many regions with relatively flat and windy topography. However, communities around wind projects are not satisfied, and growing opposition has resulted in instal rates flattening. Social science researchers have studied community attitudes through frameworks such as not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY), connections to landscapes, and physical proximity to wind turbines. More recently, development model has become a popular framework, specifically comparing community-based development to developer-led alternatives. However, defining these development types is difficult, and few studies have empirically investigated why community-based projects cultivate more positive community attitudes. My study defines community-based development using the framework by Baxter et al. (2020): a wind project with more participatory decision-making, providing fair local distribution of benefits, and having opportunities for local investment. I used a mail-out mail-back survey in Ontario (n=192) and Nova Scotia (n=170), to communities with (n=172) and without (n=190) a community-based development model. Residents were asked about their attitudes and experiences with their local wind projects, and to compare elements of two hypothetical wind projects which represent the two development types. Positivity toward one’s local wind project was predicted by two of the three dimensions identified by Baxter et al. (2020): participatory decision-making, and fair benefits distribution. A locals-focused investment scale (the third dimension) was highly preferred (95%), but not statistically associated with positivity. Unexpectedly, community-based development is not more associated with positivity toward the local wind project than developer-led. However, living in Nova Scotia instead of Ontario is. Living near community-based projects does not correlate with reporting higher positivity toward community-based hypothetical projects, though positivity toward either type of local project is correlated with higher positivity toward both hypothetical scenarios. Finally, residents prefer community-level benefits to individual-level benefits. This study suggests that there is a gap between theory and practice in community-based wind, and that historical context and community involvement should be integral to future wind development proposals.
Wilson, Sara M., "Community Attitudes and Wind Energy Development Types: A Comparative Study in Ontario and Nova Scotia" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8155.
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