Wind power is a fast growing alternative energy source. Since 2000, wind energy capacity has increased 24 percent per year with Texas leading the U.S. in installed wind turbine capacity. Most socioeconomic research in wind energy has focused on understanding local opposition, especially aesthetic impacts on the surrounding landscape. Recent studies have addressed reasons for social acceptance of wind farms, suggesting that positions both favorable and unfavorable to wind power are subtle and intricate, rather than monolithic, and rooted in place-specific issues. In the case of Texas, scholars have reported that the minimal permitting process is the dominant variable that explains the rapid rise of wind power in the state?s western region. However, scholars have yet to study the place-based local or regional factors that structure and inform acceptance of wind energy by key actors who negotiate with wind-energy firms. This thesis presents empirically determined, statistically significant social perspectives regarding socioeconomic wind energy impacts. I determined social perspectives by using Q-Method in Nolan County, Texas, a major site of wind-power development. Q-Method allows researchers to generalize about social perspectives, but not about how widely or deeply populations ascribe to social perspectives. Q-Method combines qualitative and quantitative techniques beginning with semi-structured interviews to collect statements on wind power, followed by participant ranking of statements on a ?most disagree? to ?most agree? scale. Key actors surveyed included landowners with wind turbines, elected and civilservice government officials, and prominent local business and community leaders. My findings identified five significant clusters of opinion, two of which shared strong support for wind energy on the basis of perceived positive economic impacts. Three clusters of opinion were less favorable to wind energy; these arguments were based upon opposition to tax abatements, support of tax abatements, and concerns over negative impacts to the community. Consensus emerged over the idea that positive views toward wind-energy development were unrelated to broader commitments to renewable energy. The support of key actors in favor of wind energy is contingent upon direct financial benefits from wind-energy royalties, political views on taxes, notions of landscape aesthetics, and sense of community.
- Brannstrom, Christian Professor and Associate Dean