Conflict around wind farm development has stimulated interest in ‘community benefits’ – the provision of financial or material benefits by the developers to the area affected by these facilities. By and large, both policy makers and researchers have couched the rationale for community benefits in instrumental terms, i.e. that an increased flow of community benefits will improve the social acceptability of these facilities and thereby expedite planning consent. This paper questions this conventional rationale. Proponents of this rationale neglect the institutionally structured terrain of the planning process; the provision of community benefits can shift in significance depending on whether or not the ‘affected community’ has any significant influence over wind farm projects. Similarly, our discourse analysis conducted in Wales shows that community benefits are seen predominantly as compensation for impacts, without any clear implication that they should change social attitudes. Our conclusion is that the dominant, instrumental rationale for community benefits obscures other, equally important justifications: the role of community benefits in promoting environmental justice; and how flows of community benefits might better serve the long-term sustainability of wind farm development areas.