Wind turbines are popular—in theory. Gallup data show about 70% of Americans want “more emphasis” on wind energy. Plenty of politicians like the idea, too. President Biden’s proposed Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard calls for “tens of thousands of wind turbines.”
But where, exactly, will all those turbines be built? That question matters because local governments across the country are rejecting wind energy projects. Since 2015, about 300 government entities from Vermont to Hawaii have rejected or restricted wind projects. In March the select board in Scituate, Mass., ordered a wind turbine in the coastal town to be shut down at night from mid-May to mid-October. The problem, according to the Boston Globe: complaints from neighbors who say “they can’t sleep at night because of noise” the wind turbine makes.
The planning board in Foster, R.I., voted 5-1 on April 7 to ban wind turbines. The board took action after hearing from residents of Portsmouth, R.I., who had turbines built near their homes. The Valley Breeze newspaper reported that Portsmouth residents warned the board “about their experiences, complaining about constant noise disturbances, vibrations, and loss in home values from turbines in their neighborhood.”
These aren’t isolated examples. John Riggi, a town councilman in Yates, N.Y., has been fighting a proposed 200-megawatt wind project for seven years. He told me his community and others “are fighting to keep our lands free from environmentally destructive, culture-killing and unwanted industrial renewable-energy projects.”
These land-use conflicts are the binding constraint on the expansion of renewable-energy development in the U.S. These conflicts are coming to the fore at the same time the Biden administration is pushing a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package that includes tens of billions of dollars in new spending on wind and solar energy as well as the construction of “thousands of miles” of high-voltage transmission lines.