Wind farms and NIMBY syndrome

Over at Boing Boing, there is an interesting article about wind power and the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome. The article suggests that the general understanding of the NIMBY syndrome is wrong, and the problem is not that people locally oppose what they support in a general sense. Rather, people who oppose wind farm on principle become energetic opponents when the prospect of it being installed locally arises. I am not sure how convincing I find the analysis, but the issue is an important one and not only for wind. Whatever our post-fossil fuel energy mix is going to consist of, it is going to require facilities being built near where people live, whether those facilities are concentrating solar plants, dams, wind farms, carbon capture and storage facilities, nuclear reactors, or something else.

The same issue was discussed in the film The Age of Stupid. There, it seemed pretty clear that the primary objection people had was local wind farms depressing property values. The Boing Boing article does discuss one partial solution there: offering the locals a share of the revenues from the project might change their thinking.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

22 thoughts on “Wind farms and NIMBY syndrome”

  1. Well, their account of the NIMBY phenomenon sounds wrong to me. The NIMBY issue affecting my home neighbourhood in the UK is definitely a case of people opposing locally (expansion of freight train use) what they agree with on a national level. Pretty much everyone involved there agrees that it’s good to get freight off the road and onto railways, they just don’t think the local road infrastructure can handle a freight depot, or that it is appropriate to build a major development in the green belt, or that the extra noise all night is acceptable, or that the disruption to the commuter trains (which is almost inevitable since the freight trains will use the same lines and tend to require a lot more maintenance due to being heavier) is ok. So in short, if these people are trying to generalize their claim about the NIMBY phenomenon from a study of windfarms then I’d say that they are totally full of shit.

  2. It’s not entirely insane to internalize the property value depression as a cost for the project. As much as I hate property, it’s probably the best “art of the political” solution here.

  3. My parent live on Frenchmen’s bay, in Lake Ontario, which while lovely, is also right next to the Pickering Nuclear station (they need big water sources, so are on lakes). The station also has an experimental wind turbine (my dad calls it a giant lawn ornament). Once while jogging I saw someone recording the wind turbine to aid in protesting a wind farm being built in his town (I forget which proposed wind farm it was) … I yelled at the man. I mean we live next to a NUCLEAR POWER PLANT and he can’t handle a warm farm. We need power, so we need wind farms and nuclear power stations deal with it.

  4. I’ve never understood quite what problem people have with wind farms. They’re silent (right?), useful, and incredibly graceful-looking structures. I’d be happy to have such a view from my window, though I realise that’s unlikely to happen here in south London.

  5. I find this topic particularly interesting. In fact, I even once contemplated writing my PhD thesis on protests against windmills and windfarms.

    I think it should be clear that the NIMBY phenomena is not about the activity itself, its about its location. Windmills are not as benign as some makes them to be. Certain types are actually quite noisy (think low frequency repetitive noise). Others would simply be out of place in a particular landscape. In a few decades, older wind turbines might even look ugly even to the most up-beat wind energy promoters of today.

    Finding the best place to deploy this otherwise critical infrastructure is not easy.

  6. The planning takeover
    The nuclear option

    Nov 12th 2009
    From The Economist print edition
    A shake-up in planning could centralise power and weaken the say of local people

    BRITAIN, and especially England, is occasionally compared to North Korea (only half-jokingly) as one of the most heavily centralised states in the world. Whitehall bureaucrats micromanage schools and hospitals; local government is dependent on the Treasury for most of its funding. But one bastion of local power has for years stood apart from the trend towards central control: planning, the process by which building projects are granted or denied permission to proceed. Objections from stubborn locals can derail or delay everything from small wind farms and shopping centres to huge projects of national importance. The most notorious example is probably Heathrow airport’s fifth terminal, which languished in the planning system for year upon year before eventually being approved in 2001.

    On November 9th all that seemed set to change, as Ed Miliband, the energy and climate-change secretary, delivered the first of the government’s “National Policy Statements” on infrastructure. These will inform the work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), an independent body set up last month. Led by Sir Michael Pitt, a veteran planner and local-authority boss, it will take over responsibility for planning nationally important projects from March 2010. Decisions that used to take years will, in theory, take just months or even weeks, with public involvement drastically curtailed.

  7. Do wind turbines hurt property values?
    By Dianne Saxe on wind turbine

    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has released a report: “The Impact of Wind Power Projects on Residential Property Values in the United States: A Multi-Site Hedonic Analysis”, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

    The researchers collected data on almost 7,500 sales of single-family homes within 10 miles of 24 existing wind facilities in nine U.S. states, between 1996 and 2007; the closest home was 800 feet from a wind facility. The conclusions of the study are drawn from eight different hedonic pricing models, as well as both repeat sales and sales volume models. A hedonic model is a statistical analysis method used to estimate the impact of house characteristics on sales prices.

    None of the models uncovered conclusive evidence of widespread property value effects in communities surrounding wind energy facilities. Neither the view of the wind facilities nor the distance of homes to those facilities had a consistent, measurable, and significant effect on home selling prices. While individual homes or small numbers of homes may have been negatively impacted, such impacts were either too small and/or too infrequent to result in a statistically observable effect.

  8. Finding the best place to deploy this otherwise critical infrastructure is not easy.

    Especially at the necessary scale.

    In his hypothetical renewable energy plan for the UK, David MacKay calls for a lot of wind: 52 onshore wind farms (5200 km^2) and 29 offshore wind farms (2900 km^2).

    Even that quantity doesn’t come close to providing the level of energy used by the UK now. Even to provide a reduced amount, to provide the same services with more efficiency, you also need a heap of other energy sources including nuclear stations and coal stations with carbon capture.

  9. “Do wind turbines hurt property values?”

    Does anyone else find it strange this question even gets asked? What will the “property values” be if we don’t mitigate climate change?

    We need to dismiss the idea that saving the world can be non-violent. All the solutions, be it wind farms, hydro dams, nuclear stations, coal mining for CO2 capture plants, are all horribly naturally devastating. Dams destroy river ecology, mines all have toxic tailing piles, and wind farms kill birds.

    But we’re not trying to “save nature” – we’re trying to save ourselves. We don’t need every river to be healthy, we don’t need every bird migration. What we do need is no run-away climate change.

  10. Tristan wrote: “But we’re not trying to “save nature” – we’re trying to save ourselves.”

    Speak for yourself on that count! Nature is what keeps people alive and it should be respected on all levels. There are too many “techno-enviros” pushing desecration of the landscape to satisfy a mindlessly growing, wasteful human population.

    I find it interesting that many neo-environmentalists are against dam-building for hydroelectric turbine power, yet won’t admit that wind turbines are “damning” the landscape to indefinite blight. There are many similarities between capturing water energy and wind energy. It’s all a form of solar energy. The sun evaporates water, which rains on mountains and flows downstream, and it also generates wind via temperature & pressure differentials. Low-lying solar panels on existing roofs are the most benign form of renewable energy, visually speaking.

    Most environmental problems (by definition) are man-made to begin with, so coddling every human need is not the answer. We need much more birth control and restraint, not more turbines and pillaged industrial landscapes.

  11. The other day, I saw and joined an amusingly titled but sensible Facebook group: Put a windfarm in my backyard if you like, because I’m not an idiot.

    While it is regrettable that wind turbines kill birds and bats, it seems stupid to reject such a promising form of renewable energy on that basis – and aesthetic complaints about having to see wind turbines outside are just silly. The landscape would be rendered a whole lot uglier by catastrophic climate change. Personally, I think wind farms look rather elegant.

  12. I’m tired of all the “yes, but…” responses to this blighting of the landscape. It DOES matter to people who actually have souls.

    I think people who say “turbines are beautiful” are akin to robots. Probably engineers in many cases, who get off on “improving” nature to make a living. I wonder if these are kids who grew up on video games and think the whole world is a virtual model anyhow? They’ve forgotten their true origins and aesthetic values.

    Being able to sit on a porch and observe a calm, natural-looking sunset is a big must for many people. Or, climbing a mountain and not having to look down on white skeletal “trees” like a permanent fire-scarred landscape. From the top of Mt. Diablo in California, the view is distinctly marred by wind farms to the north and south. Other structures blend in much better with the surroundings and are partly masked by trees due to their low profile. Most home roofs are dark, not stark white like turbines; there’s a big visual factor in that alone. Can they make turbines grayer and still visible to birds?

    Man-made structures themselves are blighted and overpowered by turbines. Read about the controversy near France’s Mont Saint Michel, as one example. The historic character of many places is lost when their visual surroundings are industrialized. Tourism and historical interests take a big hit where turbines are installed.

    What’s the point of energy if the quality of life we ostensibly enjoy (from that energy) is lost? It reminds me of these Dylan lyrics: “…who despise their jobs, their destiny…do what they do just to be nothing more than something they invest in.”

  13. There is nothing natural about the landscapes we already inhabit. Just look at massive deforestation in Europe and North America, the redirection and damming of rivers, the extermination of species, etc.

    Wind turbines are not such ugly or intrusive things, and as a source of power they have both a lot of potential and a generally benign character.

  14. Can they make turbines grayer and still visible to birds?

    Being white allows them to reflect a lot of heat they’d otherwise absorb. Plastic/fibre composite structures don’t tolerate heat well.

  15. Apparently, that is also why Canon’s telephoto lenses are off-white – it reduces thermal expansion that would otherwise worsen the optics.

  16. Wind energy and politics
    Not on my beach, please
    Across the world, wind technology produces as much political heat as electric light—stirring local arguments as well as global ones

    Aug 19th 2010 | Athens, Hyannis and sydney

    “OF COURSE I’m all in favour of clean energy, especially wind power, but…” That is a familiar opening gambit in a new sort of political storm, raging ever more fiercely in corners of the world where electric power comes, or may soon come, from flashing blades rather than blazing furnaces.

    The odd thing about conflicts over wind is that, usually, each side claims to be greener than the other. Opponents say a unique landscape or seascape is being overshadowed, to the detriment of tourists and residents alike. Wind power does undoubtedly pose some hazard to birds and other fauna; some say it harms humans. Others simply find wind turbines ugly, an eyesore in any location. Yet, compared with other power sources, the green credentials of wind are pretty convincing: it creates no waste, uses no water and (unlike solar panels) doesn’t need much room.

    Tempers run extra-high when the locations are glamorous and global celebrities are involved. Take Robert Kennedy junior, an environmental lawyer who helped to clean up New York’s Hudson River. He has been part of a campaign to stop a $1 billion sea-based project, called Cape Wind, that was approved by the Obama administration in April. If it proceeds, it will be America’s first offshore wind park, with an impressive capacity of 468 megawatts. The country has been a leader in land-based turbines but lags behind China and Europe in sea-based efforts. Among its many benefits, the park would meet the electricity needs of a gorgeous strip of coast where Kennedys and other grand folk have been summering for several generations. But it is a blessing those blazer-wearing, bourbon-sipping vacationers could do without.

    On a recent August day in Hyannis, the mood seemed carefree as tourists tucked into fish lunches or boarded ships for the islands. But in the naysayers’ view, it is precisely these idyllic scenes that are under threat from machines that may cover an area the size of Manhattan and be taller (at 134 metres) than the Statue of Liberty. “It would be like industrialising the Sound,” says Audra Parker, head of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a protest group.

    A study by the Beacon Hill Institute, a free-market think-tank associated with Boston’s Suffolk University, lists a sharp drop in tourist spending among the economic costs the project would impose; it would not be viable at all without a vast subsidy from state and federal taxpayers, the report argues. But Mr Salazar insists that the Cape Wind project is not only desirable in itself, but a precursor to other wind parks on America’s Atlantic coast, which has up to 1m megawatts of capacity.

    But the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, which advises the federal government, thinks otherwise. In a report published in July it concluded there was no scientific evidence to suggest that noise, flickering shadows or glinting blades made people sick. It found that a wind farm with ten turbines made much less din than an office; in fact, only about the level that might be found in a quiet bedroom, or in a rural area at night. Britain’s National Health Service agrees: having studied the available research, it finds no proof of harm from turbines.

  17. Huge growth at largest wind farm

    A massive expansion is to take place at Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, which is situated in East Renfrewshire.

    ScottishPower Renewables is to add another 75 turbines to Whitelee wind farm on Eaglesham Moor by 2012.

    This will bring the number of turbines on site to 215 – raising electricity generating capacity by two thirds.

    The 140 turbines currently at the wind farm, to the south of Glasgow, can produce enough electricity to power 180,000 homes.

    The expansion will see its generating capacity increase from 322MW to 539MW – enough to power about 300,000 homes.

    Since the site began producing electricity in 2008, ScottishPower Renewables has secured further planning consent – in May and December 2009 – to expand.

    The growth will see 69 Alstom ECO 100 turbines added, each with a 3MW capacity – greater than the current 2MW models.

    Six ECO 74 turbines with 1.67 MW capacity each will also be added.

  18. ‘Rise in Scots wind farm support’

    More than three quarters of Scots support the development of wind farms, research commissioned by the renewable energy industry has suggested.

    Scottish Renewables said its survey showed support for wind farms had risen from 73% five years ago to 78% now.

    The YouGov poll also said 52% disagreed with the statement wind developments are “ugly and a blot on the landscape”.

    The Scottish government has said it wants 80% of electricity provided by renewables by 2020.

    A total of 59% of the 1,000 people surveyed agreed that wind farms were necessary for producing renewable energy and what they looked like was unimportant.

  19. When not-in-my-backyard groups fight to kill a garbage dump or a gravel pit, it is at least possible to see where they are coming from. When they kill something like an offshore wind farm, designed expressly to help the environment, things are getting weird.

    Last week, the government of Ontario quietly announced it was placing a moratorium on building wind farms in the Great Lakes. Well-organized residents groups have campaigned tirelessly against the idea. The transparently political decision, taken just months before a provincial election, douses Toronto Hydro’s hopes of erecting a complex of wind turbines off the Scarborough Bluffs.

    The fact is that windmills are a safe and clean way of generating electricity (though whether they are a cost-effective way is another question). A number of studies have debunked the idea that they harm human health. Last year Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health found that, although some people near windmills complain of headaches or insomnia, the scientific evidence does not show a link “between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.” An Australian-government study last July came to the same conclusion: “There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms.”

    Offshore wind farms have been running for 20 years in Europe, which has 39 of them from Belgium to Denmark to Britain. Studies have shown minimal effects on bird and marine life.

    If no one has studied whether wind farms might pollute the water of freshwater lakes, it may be because the idea is plain silly. Wind turbines, like piers, are usually built on piles driven into the lake bed. After that, they just sit there spinning.

  20. Not On Our Planet: Forget NIMBYs—pipeline opponents are NOOPs

    by Bill McKibben

    My very favorite piece of punditry about the Keystone XL pipeline appeared the day after President Obama sent it back for more review, perhaps killing it off altogether.

    It came from the pen of a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations named Michael Levi, who had spent the last few months endlessly opining about why the pipeline should be approved. Proven conclusively wrong, his sour-grapes op-ed explained that, in fact, environmentalists had damaged the cause of clean energy because they’d joined with Nebraska ranchers “who simply did not want a pipeline running through their backyards” to defeat the plan. By embracing such NIMBYism, he lamented, we’d made it easier to block transmission lines from solar power plants in the desert and other green infrastructure.

    The argument is absurd on its face — one should embrace the dirtiest energy on the planet so that someday down the road we’ll be able to build some green stuff? It’s like saying you should guzzle bacon grease for breakfast to make sure your throat is open so you can eat sprouts for lunch. But more importantly, it’s a slur on the people who fought this fight, in Nebraska and elsewhere — it imagines that people out there beyond the Council on Foreign Relations are somehow unable to think generously about the world.

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