The local impacts of wind farms

Effects of onshore and offshore wind power

Wind turbine in a field of rapeseed

As a sustainable and renewable source of electricity with a robust supply chain, wind power is one of the planet's fastest-growing energy sources.

But it may not be growing fast enough. To reach Net Zero by 2050, The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the rate of growth needs to increase to 17% year-on-year – up from 14% in 2022.


One factor that could be stunting growth is misunderstandings among communities and policymakers about the impacts of wind power.

It has fewer negative impacts on humans and the environment than fossil fuels. But it does have disadvantages as well as advantages.

In this article, we delve into our journals and books to highlight what researchers have found about the potential impacts of wind power on:

  1. Residents
  2. Wildlife
  3. Local climate
  4. Local economies
  5. Air quality
  6. Aviation
  7. Shipping
  8. Agriculture
  9. Communication
  10. Local transport

1. Residents


With some wind turbines visible from 20 miles away or more, the visual impact is probably the most obvious effect of wind farms on local communities.

But the severity of the impact can be hard to measure as it depends on the farm's location. An offshore wind farm far out to sea may have less impact than one on hills overlooking a city, while wind turbines situated further away from homes are less likely to cause noticeable "shadow flicker" and reflections at sunrise and sunset for residents.

Acceptable impact

Many communities prefer a view without turbines, but many people don't object to nearby wind farms based on appearance.

For example, a study in Australia found the visual impact of wind farms was acceptable to local residents in almost all cases.

There's also no clear link between wind farms and local property values and little evidence that wind farms negatively affect tourism.


From a distance, it may seem as though wind turbines are silent. But the components and air movement around the blades produce some sound – up to 45 dB (decibels) at 300 meters.

This is about the same volume level as a quiet library but much lower than the noise generated by traffic.

Sound at this volume is unlikely to directly cause physical health issues such as hearing loss.

But noise – which is essentially any unwanted sound – can become an annoyance if it affects activities such as learning and in-person communication. This can then cause stress and affect sleep and relaxation, especially if those affected have a negative attitude toward wind turbines.

Noise is subjective, so different levels will affect people in different ways. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guideline Development Group (GDG) recommends homes are exposed to no more than 45 dB of noise on average. Wind farms and turbines can be located with this in mind.

Wind farm noise can also affect wildlife (see below).

Wind farm near the East Westphalian town of Energiestadt Lichtenau

2. Wildlife

The greatest impact of wind farms on wildlife is often during construction. For example, noise and dust could disturb wildlife in surrounding habitats, while construction during breeding seasons could affect some species.

During operations, birds, bats, and marine life are most affected.

Birds and bats

The most obvious danger to birds and bats from wind turbines is the risk of collisions with blades.

However, fossil fuel and nuclear power are likely responsible for far more bird deaths.

This study estimates that wind power in the U.S. is responsible for 0.27 bird deaths per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity. Meanwhile, nuclear power plants cause 0.6 fatalities per GWh and fossil-fueled power stations cause 9.4 fatalities per GWh.

Wind farms with larger but fewer turbines can reduce the death rate of birds in some locations. Technology that deters birds and bats from flying near turbines and building wind farms away from migratory bird routes can also reduce the risk.

Another impact of wind turbines on birds can result from the sound they produce. For some grass and woodland species, this can reduce the number of birds in areas close to wind farms over time.

Fish and marine life

Offshore wind farms may have mixed effects on fish and marine life.

This analysis of 13 studies found there are likely to be more fish in and around wind farms.

But it also highlighted the potential negative effects of wind farms on marine life. These could include:

  • Sounds that cause stress and interrupt communication
  • Cabling that alters electromagnetic fields, impacting fish migration patterns and the electrosensory mechanisms that allow some fish to feed and forage

These effects are less likely with wind farms that use floating instead of fixed turbines.

Gull flying with an offshore wind farm in background

3. Local climate

Large-scale wind farms can have a minor effect on the weather in their surrounding areas.

This can include influencing the distribution of rainfall and clouds and accelerating drought in already dry areas with many wind farms.

Large-scale wind farms can also affect temperatures in the vicinity of turbines. Some studies suggest they can raise it slightly at night and lower it slightly during the day (by about 0.5C each way).

The effects of wind farms on local climate will depend on factors such as the natural environment. Locating wind farms in windier areas and using the most efficient rotors on turbines can reduce the effects.

Wind Turbines at sunset

4. Local economies

Wind farms are likely to have positive impacts on local and regional economies.

A study cited in an article by Kehinde Adeyeye, Nelson Ijumbaa, and Jonathan Colton, found that wind energy developments in the U.S. increased total income and employment.

In the EU in 2022, wind energy added €41.8 billion (around $45 billion) to gross domestic product (GDP). The sector in the EU employs 300,000 people.

However, this study, which examined a community in Mexico, found that local wind projects were more likely to disadvantage poorer landowners.

Wind turbine construction near Mountainair, New Mexico, USA

5. Air quality

Unlike fossil fuels, wind turbines don't produce emissions when they generate power.

But the manufacturing and construction of wind turbines and wind farms produce some emissions, mostly from vehicles, blasting activities, soil movements, drilling, and mixing concrete.

This is unlikely to impact climate change or exceed local air quality standards.

Girls walking on boardwalk at Blawhorn Moss national nature reserve with wind farm turbines, West Lothian, Scotland, U.K.

6. Aviation

Wind turbines can affect the flying and operating of aircraft when they're situated within 6.1km of airports, more than 61 meters in height, or located in an area where military aircraft fly at low altitudes.

In these instances, aviation authorities such as the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) in the U.S. would be consulted during planning and construction.

Wind turbines can also potentially interfere with radar (see the communication section, below).

A wind turbine in Amsterdam with a plane flying past

7. Shipping

Collisions between turbines, installation and maintenance vessels, and passing boats and ships are a risk at offshore wind farms.

Collisions are more likely at deep-water wind farms, which may be closer to major shipping lanes.

Risk assessments at the planning stages of new wind farms aim to reduce the likelihood of collisions.

Teesside Offshore Windfarm at Redcar on a misty, calm morning on the north east coast of England

8. Agriculture

The wind turbines themselves take up only about 5% of the land on onshore wind farms. Once wind turbine foundations have been covered following construction, the land around wind farms can be used for rearing livestock and growing crops.

There's limited evidence that livestock are affected by the presence of wind turbines but more research is needed.

Herd of Cows on a meadow in front of wind turbines

9. Communication

Wind turbines can create electromagnetic interference (EMI) to TV and radio transmissions, microwave transmissions, mobile phones, and radar.

The effects can be reduced by building wind farms in areas that don't block communication signals and by using blades made of synthetic and composite materials rather than steel.

An engineer, holding a tablet and working at the wind turbine farm in the field in the orange vesta

10. Local transport

The only significant effect on local transport infrastructure from wind farms is likely during the construction and decommissioning phases.

Construction can cause additional traffic on local roads, while planners may need to modify roads and bridges to transport oversized materials such as turbine blades.

Wind turbine blade being transported on a lorry

Further reading