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NIMBYism: a global obstacle to a renewable energy future

by a siegel Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 07:45:10 AM EST

NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard driven opposition to some form of change) is a challenge to moves to a sensible energy future not just in America but around the globe.  Whether solar panels, drying clothes outdoors, white roofing, subways, or otherwise, a good number of paths toward a better energy future face opposition from those outraged over perceived impositions on their way of life, or at least their views in some way.  Perhaps the most visible battles: over wind turbine installations.

Yesteady, the New York Times traveled to the Greek isles and a battle over a renewable energy future.


THE tiny Greek island of Serifos, a popular tourist destination, depends on its postcard views of sandy beaches, Cycladic homes and sunsets that blend sea and sky into a clean wash of color. So when a mining and energy company floated a plan earlier this year to build 87 industrial wind turbines on more than a third of the island, the Serifos mayor, Angeliki Synodinou, called it her "worst nightmare."

She imagined supersize wind towers looming over the island, destroying romantic vistas, their turbines chopping the quiet like a swarm of helicopters. The project is now stalled, and Ms. Synodinou doesn't regret it. "No one would come here," she said. "Our island would be destroyed."

One of the realities of the 21st century, NIMBYism is no longer a backyard activity.  Greek opponents to wind turbines have easy (and immediate) access to battles over, for example, Cape Wind in Massachusetts.  And, they have an active ally in the Industrial Wind Action Group (IWAG), ready to provide information and support to opponents of wind projects anywhere, anytime ... including in the New York Times

"These are not just one or two turbines spinning majestically in the blue sky and billowing clouds," said Lisa Linowes, executive director of Industrial Wind Action Group, an international advocacy group based in New Hampshire that opposes wind farms.

As an aside, for a moment, "Industrial" is a very carefully chosen part of the title and quite directly derived from the heavily funded ($3.3 million in 2005 alone, with one-third from fossil-fuel magnate Bill Koch) anti-Cape Wind efforts:
"The phrase 'industrial' was the direct result of focus groups ... It frightened people who thought they lived in a pristine environment."

But, back to IWAG's complaints and comments.

No, these are not isolated towers as a modern industrial wind farm is likely to have 10s to 100s of wind turbines, spread over an extended period.

And, yes, these turbines do have an impact. They can kill birds, although well-sited and modern turbines kill very few, far fewer than would be killed by the avoided fossil-fuel pollution and far-far fewer than opponents' language suggests/claims.  

Yes, turbines can cause noise. Far less than a diesel generator or, well, a gasoline fueled car driving by the house or, well, even the normal noise level of a modern office.

And, yes, 100 meter high turbines are, well, big (actually, BIG) and can be intrusive on sightlines.

While many (most) view these spinning turbines as a welcome sight, a beautiful evocation of a cleaner, more prosperous future, there are those NIMBYists who call for a cleaner future, just as long as none of the cleaning is occurring from their back yards.  They see the wind turbines, have their blood boiling in anger, and then flip the switch for fossil fuel powered electricity, blind to their direct link to the pollution of all of our backyards.

Now, the challenge I receive, would you take one of these in your backyard?  Well, yes. (Actually, YES!!!)

But, it seems to me that there is a value toward looking to compensating people quite directly for this visual BY (back-yard) impact.   Near Serifos, on

Skyros, a low-key isle known for its diminutive Skyrian horse, the construction company EN.TE.KA has partnered with a local monastery to build between 70 and 85 turbines on a barren stretch in the island's south owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. EN.TE.KA's managing director, Constantinos Philippidis, said the turbines were expected to bring in yearly revenues of at least 2.5 million euros (about $3.73 million) for the island.

Yes, assure that the local community receives a portion of the funds. But, as a step further, wind turbine products should provide some share of their generated electricity for free to those whose 'back yard' has a visual impact. (Honestly, a limited amount of energy so not as to discourage an energy smart / energy efficient future.)

The NY Times article is reasonably good, but it is frustrating that it doesn't cite from the serious literature developing around these issues, such as the 190 page Investigation into the Potential Impact of Wind Farms on Tourism in Scotland which found both positives and negatives, providing paths for controlling the second through thoughtful placement of wind turbines.   And, around the world, actual impacts seem to be on the positive side of the equation. In Northern Greece, "the 41-turbine wind park on Panachaiko Mountain near the northern Peloponnesian city of Patras has even become a much-photographed landmark."  This is typical of wind turbines around the world.

But, back to Serifos, where

opponents started rallying against the proposed wind farm this past summer, arguing that the turbines are unsightly and noisy.

It's an argument that irritates Mr. Tsipouridis of the Hellenic Wind Energy Association. "We're living in the most polluted era of humanity," he said, "and it's sheer hypocrisy to spend so much time talking about wind turbines' noise and aesthetics."


Sheer hypocrisy.  Hmmm. I wonder whether Mr. Tsipouridis is being too polite.  Jeff McIntire-Strasburg over at Sustainablog
Wind energy opponents are a pretty stubborn lot, and I doubt anyone will convince them that wind turbines in the Greek islands would ultimately benefits residents and tourists. Given the most likely alternative of more coal power, it's a little hard to understand their thinking. As much of that coal likely has to be shipped to at least some islands, it's hard to imagine that wind wouldn't be a more cost-effective option in the long run.

Putting aside that direct financial cost of coal, without considering its 'external' costs, there is no question that that coal's CO2  will waft over the islands, sooner or later.

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Treehugger also has a post on the NYT stories: New York Times Trashes Wind Power. Twice.

This quote they've taken from the NYT is breathtakingly stupid:

Yet Sweden's gleaming wind park is entering service at a time when wind energy is coming under sharper scrutiny, not just from hostile neighbors, who complain that the towers are a blot on the landscape, but from energy experts who question its reliability as a source of power.

For starters, the wind does not blow all the time. When it does, it does not necessarily do so during periods of high demand for electricity. That makes wind a shaky replacement for more dependable, if polluting, energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas. Moreover, to capture the best breezes, wind farms are often built far from where the demand for electricity is highest. The power they generate must then be carried over long distances on high-voltage lines, which in Germany and other countries are strained and prone to breakdowns.


Stop the presses! The wind does not blow all the time! World exclusive, must credit NYT! Developing...

So wind power requires a bit more investment in the energy grid. Big deal. I seem to remember a few news items here showing that wind power actually led to lower energy prices and that with a better developed grid, could cover most of the energy demand.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 09:12:57 AM EST
Aren't there proposals in development to store wind energy by raising weights within the turbine or compressing air?

Anyway, is there anything uglier than a coal-fired or nuclear power station?
 

by lemonwilmot (lemonwilmot at gmail.com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 11:39:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's all a matter of taste. There can be no doubt, however, that roads, especially highways, are the most disruptive interventions we make in the countryside, as a commentator on treehugger noted.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 12:16:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When hiking across the Cévennes I met people opposed to a wind turbine project ; in some rather isolated mountains. One of their points was that indeed, building dozens of 100-meter high wind turbines requires building a road. Which means, along with the destruction of nature this implies, easier access for 4-wheel drive cars later on...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 07:47:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ouch. It's a funny world. Still, the dilemmas of wind power should really be manageable with just a bit of common sense.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 09:10:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To be fair, NYT also included a reason why it matters little that the wind does not blow all the time.

Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws - New York Times

Of course, Sweden does not need to build wind parks to get wind power. It could simply buy more surplus wind power from Denmark, which it uses, as does Norway, to pump underground water into elevated reservoirs. The water is later released during periods of peak electric demand to drive hydroelectric stations.

In this way, hydro acts as a form of storage for wind energy -- addressing one of wind power's biggest shortcomings. Sweden's strength in hydro makes it a good candidate for greater development of wind power, according to analysts.

And being dependent on high-voltage lines is no news for a country with lots and lots of hydro in a sparsely populated area, i.e. the northern half of Sweden.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 11:51:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And there's always

  The Great Battery of Kimberley

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 12:54:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the important thing is compensating local residents who have to live with these massive industrial (yes, industrial) installations.

If I had bought a house on a remote greek island, I didn't do it to have the calmness and serenity ruined by a dozen massive towers with immense spinning blades.

Compensation is crucial.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 12:26:13 PM EST
External costs must be internalised.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 12:30:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
how spinning wind turbines evoke anything but calm and serenity. They are grand, graceful and simply beautiful.

And the absolute proof that wind turbines are a great sight is how companies with no obvious link to wind energy will find ways to put one on the cover of their annual report - ie there is no object with more positive symbolism - no image that people would rather see, as per the amrketing and PD departments of all these corporations.

And people with actual wind farms near thir houses overwhelmingly agree.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 04:04:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, they are positive symbols on the front of corporate reports, far less for those who get them built close to their homes. They are still a very large and very obvious intrusion into nature.

But of course, if they are a positive external cost, maybe the people living close to them should actually pay the power company for the improved view? Though I'm not sure how well that would be recieved.

You might find them beautiful, well actually so do I, granted that they stay far away from my back yard.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 04:45:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree completely with Jerome on this. I took the train from Kyoto to the west coast of Japan a couple of years ago, and, across an enormously long lake (Ban, I think), there was a huge, gleaming white, graceful wind machine. It looked like it belonged just as much as the egrets in the rice paddy canals.

In October I was driving in central Washington state, and, across the Columbia River, there was a double array of turbines with the blades turning in random orientations. It was a magnificent sight.

The normal operating sound is sort of soothing. Can't wait to get one or more of "my own".

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 05:34:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by the head of RTE (the French network operator), which used to be nastily  opposed to wind power, and which was surprisingly positive.

Amongst tidbits:

  • Wind power is well diversified in France (3 different climate areas) and thus available wind production is actually quite stable over time;

  • wind kWh now pop up in the network all over the place, and actually help stabilise the network, by reducing the need to transport electricity around;

  • in addition, wind turbines are actually quite sophisticated machines and can provide frequency stabilisation all over the place even when they don't produce;


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 04:11:43 PM EST
Serifos sounds awfully like San Serriffe

I'd never heard of it: are you being serios?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Nov 26th, 2007 at 07:00:07 PM EST


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