December 9, 2014

Wind Turbines and Property Values: Does Goverment/Academic Analysis Match Empirical Evidence?

Richard Vyn, Assistant Professor, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, Ontario, is the author along with Ryan McCullough of Health Canada of “The Effects of Wind Turbines on Property Values in Ontario: Does Public Perception Match Empirical Evidence?”, which was published by the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie on line in January and in print in September – and being publicized only now, perhaps to distract from the fiasco of Health Canada’s self-contradicting summary of its “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study” without releasing the actual data. The complete paper is not available for free.

What follows is a transcript of excerpts (in italics) from a Nov. 18 recording of a class presentation by Professor Vyn, along with some comments.

Now, the number of sales in close proximity is relatively low. Not that it's lower than anywhere else, just when you're looking at a 1-kilometre band around the turbines, the number of sales is not huge in the post-turbine period. This may influence the results to some degree. ... That can be seen as a limitation of the study: the fact that the number of sales isn't as high as we would like to be.

[The key term in his description of the results is "significant", because calculation of a statistically significant difference requires both a large enough sample and the elimination of other variables, both of which are practically impossible regarding property sales (in fact, the purpose of such a broad statistical analysis seems to be precisely to dilute the sample). So significance is a red herring. Nonetheless, his repeated use of the term "not significant" suggests that there was in fact a clear "trend". More informative, however, would be a simple case series, such as that done by Elma-Mornington Concerned Citizens for the Ripley project. Such a study would not ignore properties bought by the wind company, abandoned properties, continuing farms but without residents, and homes for sale but remaining unsold.]

It wouldn't surprise me if we do find, if we do at some point in Ontario find some evidence of negative impacts of wind farms. The reason for this is just given the increasing attention this issue has drawn and just how people value properties. A lot of the value you place on a property is relatively subjective. Why does one property which, with the exact same house, you put it in a different location, why is the value any different? Because of how people perceive the differences in those locations. So in the past few years there's been a big increase in the amount of concerns that are raised, public press articles that are expressing these concerns, and more and more people are hearing about these potential impacts. And so I'm wondering if this will eventually translate into observed impacts on property values. I mean in one sense you can only hear about these impacts again and again for so long before you start to believe that these impacts do actually exist. And it's not beyond the realm of possibility when you consider the fact that a large wind turbine's been put up that maybe there would be impacts.

[These efforts to blame access to information (or to common sense) as the cause of problems never seem to consider the relentless promotion of and reassurances regarding giant wind turbines – why isn't that succeeding to decrease reports of harm? Also, people are not statistical averages. Nobody is "only 5-10%" (or whatever) affected; what that means is that there is a 5-10% chance that you will be 100% affected; and that's plenty to be concerned about.]

[question] Going back to when you were talking about future research needs, you mentioned how since the value of a house is largely subjective, as we move into the future and more people hear about these potential impacts, even though they may be from unreliable sources, you said it could become sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy as we see these prices go down. So alternatively, if you improve the access to information, this information specifically, instead of sensationalist news stories, do you think that public perception could improve, so if more people, essentially, read this paper do you see that improving public perception of it?

I think a little bit. At the very least it would sort of inform public opinion about these issues. But on the other hand, if people believe that there are these impacts, it really doesn't matter what research studies such as this one suggest. I mean, we saw that even with the Health Canada study on the linking wind turbines to health, where they really didn't find any significant linkages
[except the link of wind turbine noise to annoyance and the link of annoyance to health problems]. It was immediately dismissed, as I imagine this study will be as well by those that believe strongly that there are these impacts. So I think it furthers the discussion, but I don't know that a study like this will turn things around in terms of public perception. I would hope it has some impact on how it's discussed, but for those that do believe there is a significant negative impact on property values this study isn't going to change. There are certainly some limitations of this study, and I think because there's limitations, as there are with any study, that may be what gets focused on by those that believe there are negative impacts.

[Much worse is the determination of many policy analysts to deny the evidence of negative impacts. Vyn recognizes the limitations of his study and other studies that show impacts, but persists in laying the blame for any evidence of harm on fear-mongering and prejudice rather than accepting that giant industrial constructions (with rotating blades day and night) in rural areas would have any consequence. They use statistics and the language of science not to discover the truth, but rather to deny the evidence, to hide the obvious, to instead promote and defend a particular industry or policy.]