The debate over wind turbines and property values has been a stumbling block for a number of US wind developments. It killed FPL Energy's Addison Wind Farm in Wisconsin and is bringing out the political heavyweights at Cape Cod. They are objecting to an offshore wind farm within sight of coastal homes. The value of a view is also at the centre of opposition to proposals by Zilkha Renewable Energy and EnXco to build two large wind farms in Washington's Kittitas County.
While the study, which relied on interviews with property tax assessors, may not settle the conflict in the minds of wind farm opponents anywhere, according to Zilkha's Chris Taylor, it could convince those sitting on the fence in the Kittitas County dispute. "I think it will convince some people," Taylor says. "But, mostly, it will just change the minds of the undecideds, those people that are on the fence about their support for our project."
Fence sitters could make a huge difference in the county's decision about whether to let Zilkha's proposed 150 MW project and EnXco's planned 225 MW wind farm go ahead. A recent poll found that 16% of Kittitas County voters are undecided about wind development, while 64% of voters support the projects and 21% oppose them.
Stephen Grover, the author of the report, Economic Impacts of Wind Power in Kittitas County, says that while there is plenty of anecdotal information about how wind projects affect property values, when he started his work there were no reliable US studies. So he and his colleagues at EcoNorthwest interviewed tax assessors in Wyoming, California, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon counties where 22 wind projects have been built over the past ten years, focussing on those where nearby residential property had views of multiple turbines. The assessors told him there was no apparent change in property values. "I had expected there might be some impacts somewhere," Grover says. "I was surprised it was as unanimous as it was."
Grover did, however, discover some nuances. He found that a working wind farm is more acceptable to property owners than wind farms where turbines are no longer in use, but still standing. That sentiment is echoed in a survey of literature on the topic by the Tennessee Valley Authority released in April this year, which concluded that the negative perceptions some people have about wind turbines is largely driven by earlier failures of the machines in some parts of the country.
Grover also found that not everyone likes the look of wind turbines, but there are enough people who do and who will buy land near them. The result is that property values do not fall. That contradicts a 1995 Danish study that found values on property near wind turbines dropped by $2900 to $16,800. Grover did not use that study's results in his work, saying it was not germane to the US, that it was not from a "refereed" journal and that its findings were statistically insignificant.
It was the lack of rigorous research elsewhere, says Grover, that caused him to consider a worst-case scenario when he looked at the impact on property values of transmission towers and lines, universally thought to be ugly. He found that the value of property in sight of transmission towers declines by 5-10%, but the decline is short-lived and property values eventually come back up.
Grover says a study is still needed that looks at the value of homes sold over time. While he's not sure enough homes near wind turbines have been sold to do the study yet, he is confident the larger study would get the same answer as the one already conducted.
The Phoenix Economic Development Group in Ellensburg, Washington, commissioned the $14,000 study and has come out in support of both the Zilkha and EnXco wind farms proposed for Kittitas County since the report's release.