How do we change landowner perspectives on wind energy?

The transition to renewable energy in Alberta is facing many hurdles. Within Canada, Alberta has the highest greenhouse gas emissions and is lagging behind the rest of the country with a net-zero grid goal of 2050, 15 years later than the rest of the country

The delayed goal and renewable development hurdles are due to government actions, but the adaptation of renewable energy also depends on the acceptance and action of citizens. 

Acceptance of renewable energy projects within Alberta is a nuanced topic, particularly amongst rural landowners who are the most directly affected by renewable energy projects.

Often, perspectives of renewable energy detractors are dismissed under the label of ‘NIMBY’ or ‘not-in-my-backyard.’ In the context of renewable energy, the term is often used pejoratively and implies that people are against renewable energy purely for selfish reasons.

The use of the NIMBY label may dismiss important perspectives held by detractors.

Similarly, researchers have speculated that support for renewable energy may be tied to political affiliation

A study published in 2023 by John R Parkins and Monique Holowach investigates the perspectives of landowners on the development of wind projects and whether those perspectives are politically polarized.

The short answer is no, wind perspectives are not politically polarized. Parkins emphasizes that this finding is positive.

“People's political orientations are often quite hard wired – you know, you're not likely going to be, you know, a conservative one day and liberal the next,” Parkins says. “But people's attitudes towards the technology and their understanding of that technology can be more changeable”

Similar to the NIMBY label, the assumption that perspectives on renewable energy are polarized or politically charged may dismiss important concerns held by detractors.

But the study revealed that landowner perspectives are varied and nuanced.

Parkins emphasized that some landowners hold valid concerns about wind power development. Understanding these concerns may be the key to changing landowner perspectives.



Many landowners were concerned about the aesthetic impact wind energy projects have on Alberta's landscapes.

The Alberta Government's new land use restrictions around the development of renewable energy projects address aesthetic concerns by limiting where renewable energy projects can be built.

While the restrictions have been criticized, Parkins says this particular restriction may provide some comfort to landowners who hold those particular concerns.

“[F]or some communities who feel like they're overrun by wind power development in their region and their municipality, this may rest some people's minds, give some people some sense of comfort that there will be some constraints or restrictions on further development,” Parkins says.

So it’s possible that addressing landowner concerns through these restrictions will help increase acceptance for renewable projects in the province.

Accounting for aesthetics when designing wind projects may also increase acceptance.


Co-ops and community involvement

Studies on wind perspectives in Germany found that one of the most effective ways to garner community support for renewable energy projects is to involve residents and communities in the projects.

Residents were either involved directly as investors or indirectly through action on their behalf from the municipal government.

In both cases, community members were more supportive of projects they felt would directly benefit them and their community.

Some renewable energy collectives have sprung up around Canada including the Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative in Canmore.



In a case study of Freiamt, a rural community in Germany, researchers found that support for renewable energy is dependent on the local context.

The renewable energy transition in Freiamt Germany was driven by the residents’ desire to improve their local economy and personal well being. 

Freiamt was a community that relied primarily on agriculture, but farming in the region is challenging and the reduced selling price of goods encouraged residents to consider other sources of income in the form of renewable energy projects.

This finding is reflected in Alberta where differing local contexts have impacted acceptance in different municipalities.

In the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, the residents and council members chose to turn away renewable energy projects and the tax revenue that accompanies such projects.

Support in the municipality has dropped from 70 to 40 per cent. Rick Lemire, councillor for Pincher Creek MD, says preserving viewscapes was a prominent concern.

Renewable energy support from residents of Pincher Creek and other municipalities may also be impacted by frustration with abandoned oil wells. Residents may be worried about potential renewable energy projects being similarly abandoned, leaving behind large abandoned structures on the land.

“These are huge towers on a landscape,” Parkins says. “It's impossible for a landowner to imagine trying to reclaim that tower – to dismantle that tower on their own.”

Parkins suggests that there may be a need for government policy in order to address reclamation issues.

By contrast, nearby Municipality Cardston County is trying to attract renewable energy projects in an effort to gain economic self-reliance, not unlike Freiamt. 

Though Cardston’s situation is unusual in that the new restrictions have divided the municipality into three sections, in essence creating different local contexts within the municipality.

One of those local contexts being Mountain View hamlet that is in need of a wind powered water treatment facility to treat well water.


Build first, acceptance later

One study in the Netherlands found that support for renewable energy projects increases after a project is complete. 

Additionally, living in proximity to renewable energy projects correlates with higher levels of support and community owned renewable energy projects in particular can increase awareness and understanding of climate and energy issues.

Whatever the support level, renewable energy development in Alberta is inevitable and necessary in order for the province to reduce emissions and meet the 2050 net zero goal.


Learn more about renewable energy development and landowner perspectives in Alberta from the resources below:

Political Polarization of Perspectives on Wind Power with John Parkins

Unraveling the link between political polarization and wind energy perspectives: Insights from a survey of agricultural landowners in Alberta, Canada

Agricultural landowner perspectives on wind energy development in Alberta, Canada: insights from the lens of energy justice and democracy

Local acceptance of renewable energy—A case study from southeast Germany

Renewable energy developments in Alberta to face strict new rules