Thursday, August 11, 2011

NIMBY and Wind Power

BBC’s One Planet podcast had a segment recently on how NIMBY-ism is preventing wind farm projects from moving forward in the UK – “nearly half” the proposed projects in fact. Folks from the Welsh village of Gilfach Goch where a wind farm has been planned are livid, livid I tell ya, that the utility wants to put these “monstrosities” in their town.

All the arguments they had against the project in the interviews were based on aesthetic complaints – they mess up the look of the landscape and they sound bad, etc... But the icing on the cake quote was from John Jenkins of South Wales Alternatives to Turbines (SWAT) who suggested that nuclear is a good alternative to wind (huh?). When pressed by the interviewer, he also suggested this imaginary nuclear plant not be placed in Gilfach Goch, but somewhere else (HUH?).

People People People. Let’s get some things straight here. Gilfach Goch’s energy now comes from somewhere. There’s a plant in someone’s backyard supplying energy to the people of Gilfach Goch right now. Judging by the UK’s energy statistics, it’s probably a plant that burns gas or coal. Someone somewhere is eating their shit in the form of mercury, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide or any number of other nasty pollutants.

When people say they don’t want a wind farm in their backyard, they’re essentially saying “I want someone else to pay for the consequences of my energy use”. I’m not against taking a careful look at the potentially negative effects of renewable energy installations – I’ve heard reasonable environmental complaints and I'm also a bigger cheerleader for efficiency than I am for renewables. But for people to pretend that their righteous protest is morally benign is the height of hypocrisy and selfishness. It’s asking others to make the sacrifices you don’t want to. And ultimately, the entire planet is one big backyard. If you get your energy from a coal plant 100 miles away, believe me, it’s still in your backyard.

I don’t mean to single out Wales – the region is actually doing a lot to support renewable energy (perhaps that's why we see the backlash). NIMBY-ism is a common impediment to wind energy in other places too (Martha’s Vineyard anyone?). The haters could learn from these folks:


  1. Great post, and I agree with your sentiments and arguments against Wind NIMBY's. However, as you recognize, it is also very true that wind farms have environmental impacts, and that efficiency is a better and more cost-effective investment, at least for some regions of the US. For example, wind farms on Appalachian ridges are at best 30% efficient (capacity factor), while wind farms offshore, in the Midwest, or in other high wind areas are 40-50% efficient. So what we need is greater planning and scrutiny, and better public education about the impacts of energy consumption. I for one do support renewables, as you do, but primarily in the form of distributed generation (solar PV), and am not as strong a supporter of wind power as I used to be, unless it's community owned and properly sited. Back to the point, and considering the rest of my comment, I believe that one of the worst examples of NIMBY-ism in the US is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s opposition of a wind farm off Cape Cod, while Kennedy at the same time works to stop mountaintop removal coal mining. That's hypocrisy at its worst.

  2. "What we need is greater planning and scrutiny, and better public education about the impacts of energy consumption."

    So true. Consumption is really the crux of our energy problems.

    I didn't mention it in the article but the wind farm in Wales is an offshore wind farm and apparently was carefully sited. The officials interviewed seemed more sympathetic to the townsfolk than I was after I heard the story :)

    Thanks for your comments - I know you've done a lot with this issue and appreciate your insight!

    - Erica