Date of Award:

Fall 9-2017

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Environment and Society

Advisor/Chair:

Richard Krannich

Co-Advisor/Chair:

E Helen Berry

Third Advisor:

Roslynn Brain

Abstract

The way our electricity is generated is in a period of rapid change; in the United States and many other countries the system is becoming less reliant on coal based power systems, while natural gas and solar and wind power are becoming more and more important. Technological advances have made solar and wind power more efficient and increasingly cost-effective. While these changes to the electrical system come with great benefits, such as less pollution, these technologies are not free of impacts. The electrical system is inseparable from our modern lifestyle, and because the system is so large this transition will affect society in many ways.

This dissertation analyzes one aspect of the social side of these changes in the electrical system by asking, what does the public think about renewable energy? In particular we examined how political beliefs, community differences, and residential distance from wind turbines might influence attitudes about renewable energy. We find that political belief is an important factor in predicting levels of support for renewable energy, with conservatives less likely to prefer renewable energy and liberals more supportive of its development. We also find distinct differences in how residents of particular communities tend to react to renewable energy and local wind power development. In addition, we find that living closer to wind turbines is not a good way to predict attitudes about wind energy. These results should help policy makers and developers to make better decisions about how and where we build utility-scale solar and wind electric power facilities by taking into consideration the nuances of personal and political beliefs as well as community differences.

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