Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory

EVS scientist contributes to new book on scenic impacts of renewable energy projects

March 1, 2017

As the world transitions away from fossil to renewable energy sources, landscapes and seascapes are being transformed by renewable energy infrastructure. Giant wind turbines and massive solar energy facilities are now a highly visible presence in many countries, and they are linked to the electrical grid by electric transmission lines that criss-cross the countrysides on every inhabited continent. More recently, offshore wind farms have become a major visual element of coastal views worldwide. While the recent worldwide surge in renewable energy development is critical to our clean energy future, the changes it brings to treasured views of our landscapes and seascapes is giving rise to public opposition that can derail or delay the renewable energy projects that are critical to a successful transition. In response, Robert Sullivan of EVS has collaborated on a new book entitled The Renewable Energy Landscape: Preserving Scenic Values in Our Sustainable Future (New York: Routledge, 2017) that examines the scenic impacts of renewable energy projects, and how these impacts can be minimized to help ensure that well-sited renewable energy projects are successful.

While polls have repeatedly shown that most people support the development of renewable energy, opposition to individual renewable energy and electric transmission projects because of potential visual impacts is longstanding and widespread. While most people support the concept of renewable energy, many of these same individuals don't want renewable energy projects within their treasured views – whether those views are from their backyards or their favorite national park. Public opposition to renewable energy projects, particularly wind projects, can be intense, is often well organized, and is frequently successful in halting or at least delaying proposed projects, especially in the U.S. and Europe. And when projects are poorly sited, they can do lasting damage to highly valued, scenic, historic, and culturally important views, as well as causing ill will toward the developers and government agencies that may have permitted the projects.

Visual resource scientists conduct research to (1) identify why and how humans develop emotional attachments to the visual environment; (2) develop tools to identify, inventory, and assess scenic quality; and (3) conduct visual impact assessments to determine the nature and magnitude of scenic impacts from development. Robert Sullivan, a visual resource scientist in EVS and a landscape architect by training, has collaborated with other scientists in academia, federal agencies, and professional practice as an author and editor of The Renewable Energy Landscape. The book is a guide to understanding, assessing, and mitigating the impacts of renewable energy projects on landscapes and seascapes.

Topics addressed in The Renewable Energy Landscape include:

  • Policies aimed at managing scenic impacts from renewable energy development;
  • Social acceptance of renewable energy in North America, Europe and Australia;
  • Visual characteristics of energy facilities, and design and planning techniques for minimizing their visual impacts;
  • Methods of assessing visual impacts of renewable energy projects;
  • Best management practices for creating and using visual simulations; and
  • Policy recommendations for political and regulatory bodies.

The Renewable Energy Landscape was written for use by those engaged in planning, designing, or regulating renewable energy projects, as well for use by individuals, organizations, and communities concerned about renewable energy development within their valued viewscapes. In addition to serving as an associate editor for the book, Sullivan authored chapters on the visual impacts of renewable energy projects and proper development and use of visual simulations. The Renewable Energy Landscape is available from the publisher (Routledge), Amazon, and other bookstores.