Tom Herfs has been working at Pondera since June 2021. Within the team Environment and Spatial Planning, Tom is a junior advisor on renewable energy and is involved in, among other things, feasibility studies and GIS analyses. Tom has a special affinity with the social aspects of renewable energy projects. In 2020 he obtained a master’s degree in Science, Management & Innovation. His graduate thesis looked at the social acceptance of wind farms by local residents in the province of Gelderland. We were very interested in his research and were keen to find out more from Tom.

Tom, could you tell us a bit more about your thesis?

I conducted research for the Province of Gelderland into how local residents experience a wind farm, and how that perception changes over time. I sent a survey to the people who lived in the neighbourhood of Windpark Buren and asked them for their opinions before the wind farm was constructed and how they felt about the wind farm now. I also examined which factors had the most influence on their opinions. By factors I mean things like the value of their house, noise pollution, health risks and natural consequences.

Interesting! Did a shift eventually take place?

The research showed that local residents thought differently about the wind farm after construction. On average, they were slightly more positive after the wind farm had been built. This shift was mainly visible among local residents who were negative or neutral about it before the construction. Little changed for the group of people who already had a clear opinion – either very positive or very negative – before the wind farm was built. The study also showed that a number of factors influenced the perception of local residents. On the one hand, for example, local residents were more negative about the construction of the wind farm because they were afraid of a decrease in the value of their home. On the other hand, local residents were more positive about the construction of the wind farm if they thought the environment would derive (local) economic benefits from it.

What now?

The opinion of neutral and negative local residents can therefore change over time. It would be interesting to know what causes this. In addition, it may be useful for politicians who sometimes have to make difficult decisions at an early stage. A small side note is that in my research I only examined one wind farm. There have been situations where the differences became stronger over time, and people eventually started to think more positively about wind energy, due to things like habituation (Duiven). And of course there have also been situations where the positive change in attitude does not occur at all (Houten).

For follow-up research, it is important that a broader view is taken, for example, using standardised surveys. It would be valuable for the decision-making process if the causes of changing attitudes were more clearly identified, so that decision-makers and initiators could better shape the projects. And of course it would be nice if the negative perception that local residents have in the early stages could be largely removed. If that were the case, local residents would eventually view the wind farm much more positively even before construction. In any case, we already know one thing: time and again it appears that it is important to allow local residents to participate in the process in good time.