Mills: When is wind energy technology sustainable within rural communities?

February 27, 2018

The 2018 book The Handbook of Sustainability and Social Science Research includes a piece by Sarah Mills entitled: "Wind energy and rural community sustainability."


Because it is a carbon-free source of electricity, wind energy is often unquestioned as an environmentally sustainable technology. But is this technology sustainable when considered within the context of the rural communities in which it is often sited? This paper uses survey data from paired rural communities with and without utility-scale wind energy projects to understand the economic and social impacts of wind energy development on these predominantly agricultural communities. It finds clear economic benefits to the communities that host wind turbines—namely, that wind developers’ payments to landowners are largely re-invested in farming operations, leading to economic stability and increasing expectations that a younger generation will want to stay on the farm. The social impacts of wind development are more nuanced, and depend upon the windfarm’s business model. Specifically, windfarms are least disruptive of the social structure in rural communities when wind developers employ a business model that gives more community members a direct financial stake in the project.