By RUDI HEMPE/ecoRI News contributor
KINGSTON — A sweeping report covering all of the major wind turbine installations in Rhode Island has concluded that the property values of single-family homes near these spinning devices haven’t declined — at least according to the statistical data accumulated so far.
The report was delivered Dec. 17 by Corey Lang, assistant professor in the University of Rhode Island Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, before a relatively quiet but attentive audience of about 50 people. The study was one of several being sponsored by the state Office of Energy Resources (OER) on wind turbines.
Lang and his team of researchers looked at a total of 48,554 real-estate transactions that took place between January 2000 and February 2013. The large sample included all single-family transactions within a 5-mile radius of all large wind turbines in the state. The researchers restricted their study to turbines of 100-kilowatt (kW) capacity and higher.
The first land-based wind turbine erected in the state was in 2006, according to Lang. The state now has 12 such turbines with 100-kW capacity or more.
“Most people are supporting about renewable energy but they want to be smart as to how we do it,” Lang said. “We don’t want to solve one problem and create another.”
One of the biggest concerns about wind turbines, he said, is their effect on property values. “People are concerned, and rightly so, that if someone erects a wind turbine near their property they are going to lose equity,” Lang said.
He noted that some anecdotal estimates in some studies across the nation contend there are 20 percent to 30 percent losses in equity. Lang also said some of the research posted on the Internet is hardly research at all. “There is some bad research out there,” he said.
But the problem with much of the research so far, he said, is that the studies address issues around huge rural wind farms in the middle of the country. Those studies don’t apply to places like Rhode Island, where single wind turbines are erected in areas where there may be dense populations nearby.
To analyze the Rhode Island situation, his team looked at property transactions within four spatial zones of each turbine: 0 to a half-mile; half-mile to a mile; 1 mile to 3 miles; and 3 miles to 5 miles. His team collected sales transaction data from each area.
The study was complicated because several other factors come to bear when it comes to single-family property values, such as the number of bedrooms, the size of lots, accessibility to transportation and quality of schools, to name a few. In addition, the study was complicated because of the housing market slowdown and partial recovery that took place during the span of the study.
Lang’s presentation was heavy on figures, tables and graphs. His team further broke down the data along a time axis: before there is any indication that a wind turbine will be built; the time when an announcement is made that a turbine will be built in a certain location; and post-construction.
In general, the research found that in the areas closest to each of the 12 turbines — within a half-mile — there was a slight dip in value, but as time went by there was recovery. The number of transactions in these areas statewide was 584. The recovery, it could be interpreted, might also have resulted because of market upturns, he said.
In answer to audience questions, Lang said zoning wasn’t considered in the study, and those turbines that were located in industrial areas had relatively few single-family homes close by.
Lang also noted that the effect on properties that are 3 to 5 miles from a turbine is negligible. At that distance the turbines are probably not even visible, he said.
“The main conclusion,” Lang said, “is that the price trends for houses in close proximity are similar to houses farther away. Based on proximity, this study finds that there is no discernible statistical effect that wind turbines affect property values.”
As for the so called “viewshed” — the area where wind turbines are visible — Lang noted that his team visited all of the turbine sites in the state but couldn’t make a clear determination on the effect. The team couldn’t come up with any statistical evidence of the effect of viewshed on property values.
And as for another often-cited problem with wind turbines, shadow flicker, the researchers only came up with seven sales transactions that fell into the exposure range of turbines. Shadow flicker could have an effect, he said, or it could not, suggesting that more study is needed.
In response to another audience question, Lang noted that the audio effects of wind turbines on nearby residents is a matter still under study by another research team. Danny Musher of the OER said the acoustic study should be released to the public in early spring.