Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

First Advisor

Maxwell Boykoff

Second Advisor

Lori Hunter

Third Advisor

Emily Yeh

Fourth Advisor

Suzanne Tegen

Abstract

This study investigates growing opposition to industrial-scale wind farms in the United States (US). Opposition groups are often successful in halting or delaying turbine construction, which significantly impacts the feasibility of meeting the US Department of Energy’s "20 percent wind energy by 2030" goal; the US now generates 3.5 percent of electricity from the wind.

Because wind farms require large tracts of open land and are mostly built in rural areas, this research focuses on the US West and examines opposition underway in east-central Wyoming. Wyomingites embody politically conservative and culturally individualistic ideologies that pose unique challenges for wind developers. Wyoming’s historic dependence on coal mining and other fossil fuels industries also means that the wind industry is often perceived as a threat to jobs and the state’s economy. However, a declining agricultural market and vulnerability from boom-and-bust extractive industries may well position rural communities to benefit from wind farms’ steady economic outputs.

To deepen understanding beyond the typical 'NIMBY' (Not In My Back Yard) explanation, this research uses a political ecology framework. Political ecology examines environmental conflicts with particular attention paid to relations of power between stakeholders and with concern for equitable distribution of harms and goods. Findings in this study highlight two emergent narratives. First, wind energy is perceived as an imposition on local communities that may not have a voice in siting decisions and that may suffer disproportionate burdens. Second, a discourse of support for wind farms also emerges and characterizes opposition as a privileged effort to protect vacation property values, uphold an elitist construction of ‘nature’, and wage ideological war on renewable energy.

Through two case studies, this research provides textured insights into wind farm opposition that may help mitigate future contestations as well as anticipate networks of support in the US context. This work also poses larger, critical questions interrogating the logic of developing industrial-scale renewables in rural areas, far from the urban centers driving ‘green’ electron demand. Narratives articulated foreshadow future responses to wind farms, particularly in the US West, and lay a foundation for more equitable decision-making processes that designate wind energy landscapes.

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