Environment & planning

Positive effects of wind energy

Wind energy is one of the cleanest, most environmentally friendly energy sources. It has a long-term positive impact on our environment as:

At the local level, wind energy can also have positive effects on biodiversity, and offers an opportunity to practice ecological restoration. Offshore windfarms, for example, are quickly populated by sea life.

Potential site-specific impacts on birds or bats can be avoided and minimised by careful planning and siting, or else mitigated or compensated. In fact, wind farm developers are required to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments to gauge all potential significant environmental effects and meet all requirements of EU legislation before construction can start. Birdlife International confirms their support for high wind and renewable use and 2030 targets in their report – Meeting Europe’s Renewable Energy Targets in Harmony with Nature. Moreover, a new study entitled “Delivering Synergies between Renewable Energy and Nature Conservation” produced by the Institute for European Environmental Policy shows that the impact of wind farms on most habitats and species are typically very low if the wind farms are well planned, sited and managed intelligently.

Wind energy can also be developed in protected Natura 2000 sites as confirmed by the European Commission in its Guidelines on Wind energy and Natura 2000.

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Planning wind energy

Permitting and grid connection

Administrative and permitting procedures are amongst the most important obstacles to the development of wind energy projects. Fair and shorter permitting and connection procedures would significantly reduce project development costs. According to WindBarriers, a project conducted by EWEA during 2009 and 2010, project developers face average lead times for administrative authorisation of almost 55 months and grid connection procedures of aproximately 26 months. The European wind industry’s objective is to shorten these periods to 24 and 6 months respectively and stays engaged to achieve this goal.

Noise limits

Noise is a considerable factor when it comes to planning and social acceptance of wind projects in Europe. Yet, some studies have associated concerns over noise with visual impact and perception. In most European countries, noise legislation is based on national regulations. Allowable environmental noise limits are categorised by area and timing. Minimum and maximum levels usually vary between 40 to 55 dB during the day and are reduced by 5 to 10 dB during the night. Noise limits in recreational areas vary from 40 to 48 dB during the day and are reduced by approximately 5 dB during the night.

Table1 Allowable environmental noise limits across Europe
Type of area dB(A) near houses
DAY

Min

DAY

Max

NIGHT

Min

NIGHT

Max

Residential areas/ dwellings 40 55 35 45
Recreational areas 40 48 35 43

The wind industry has been using mitigation and compensation techniques for reducing noise emissions. Noise modelling, acoustic data and detailed surveys during the planning phase are essential. Early community involvement and publication of noise model measurements are considered best practices. Moreover, n most of the European countries, citizens can address their concerns post construction and require additional mitigation techniques from the project developers.

Key texts

  • Noise regulation and wind energy deployment in EU Member States (Members area only)

Public acceptance of wind energy

According to a 2011 Eurobarometer survey, Europeans were more favourable to renewable energy than other energy sources, particularly solar (94%), wind (89%) and hydroelectric (85%).

Several EU-funded projects (GP Wind, Reshare) and initiatives (IEA’s Wind Task 28) assist with demonstration and dissemination of best practices, collection of current knowledge and promotion of social acceptance of wind farms.

Wind energy delivers a multitude of benefits to communities: It is sustainable and creates local jobs, wealth and economic revival, it helps fight climate change and improves our energy security. What is more, renting out land for wind farms can provide income. Taxes from a wind energy business can be used for social and cultural services in the community, and a wind project might also provide local infrastructure improvements such as roads and electricity transmission lines.

There is no evidence of wind energy projects affecting property prices, and once the farm is built, trends suggest that people who live near a wind farm become more favourable towards wind energy. Awareness campaigns such as the Global Wind Day help inform Europeans and people around the world about the benefits of wind energy.

EWEA is coordinating the WISE Power project, an IEE funded project which aims at increasing local awareness and participation in the planning process with the aim of reducing social resistance that often results in creating unnecessary obstacles to the deployment of wind energy projects. The project has a strong focus on alternative measures of funding, such as community and cooperative innovative forms of funding wind farms.

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