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NIMBYism: a global obstacle to a renewable energy future

November 26th, 2007 · 20 Comments

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.

Today, the New York Times took us to the Greek isles,

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.  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, 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.  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 in the United States and elsewhere, 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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Tags: NIMBY · renewable energy · wind power

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeff at sustainablog // Nov 26, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Appreciate the nod, A. The Greek isles also seem ideal for wind power because of the hilly terrain — there’s no reason to believe that turbines would have to be placed right next to places where people live and/or work, as there’s plenty of open hill space… and I’m guessing that would be the best place to put them.

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  • 6 purslane // Dec 18, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Re: “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. 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.”

    “Avoided fossil-fuel pollution” is precisely the issue. Wind energy does not seem to appreciably reduce fossil fuel use. So it is just killing more birds.

    The noise, it must be remembered, may occur at any time. Unlike the office, you can’t leave it. Unlike traffic, which also lessens at night, wind turbine noise is rhythmic and thus more intrusive. This is not just a problem to be mitigated by making sure nobody lives within a mile or two of them, because animals are also disrupted by the noise.

  • 7 asiegel // Dec 18, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Purslane — thank you for your visit with talking points. “Appreciably reduce fossil fuel use”. Hmmm, guess we need to discuss what appreciably means. US electricity is now about 1 percent wind power. Without it, how would you suggest that additional electricity be provided? Coal? Natural Gas?

    And, I wonder whether you will argue against windows and allowing domestic cats to roam outside, since these are so much more significant in terms of bird deaths.

    Sound … yes … sound is an issue … Yet, are you speaking to alternatives and implications? Relative impacts? No, you are cherry picking false flag issues to fight against renewable energy.

  • 8 purslane // Dec 19, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    I am not fighting renewable energy. I am noting that the argument that wind turbines “save” more birds than they kill is very weak.

    As for that 1% “contribution”, has other fuel use, especially coal, gone down 1%? There is no evidence that it has. Even if it has, what does that mean for global warming? Electricity is only a part of emissions, and the fuel mix reduces even that 1% (especially where there is hydro, the first choice for balancing wind). So how many birds would be saved by a fraction of a fraction of 1% reduction in emissions? How many tens of thousands of giant turbines would be required to make a real difference, and then would that mounting death toll still be less than the number of birds theoretically saved?

    Finally, noting that windows and cats kill birds does not absolve killing them with industrial wind turbines. Anyway, wind turbines are especially noted for killing raptors and bats.

  • 9 asiegel // Dec 19, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    Purslane – Appreciate your coming back.

    1. Of course, there has not been a “reduction”, since overall power use has been growing. Now, if you read through my work, you will see that I am a serious advocate of energy efficiency and would like to see the fossil fuel generated electricity seriously fall.

    2. Poorly sited (such as Altamont) is especially bad with raptors. Understanding migration / other patterns matters.

    3. And, yes, the number of birds saved due to reduced pollution would significantly outweigh the numbers that well-sited wind would kill. What are the impacts of Global Warming on birds?

    4. There is not ‘absolution’ with the windows / cats, but there is a value in placing things in perspective.

  • 10 purslane // Dec 20, 2007 at 2:40 am

    I return to my initial point: What is the actual benefit of wind turbines? Where is the evidence that their presence on the grid actually reduces the use of other fuels to any degree that can justify their own adverse impacts?

  • 11 asiegel // Dec 20, 2007 at 3:15 am


    1. Without this wind, where would that electricity come from?

    2. What are the “adverse impacts” of those other power options (coal, natural gas)?

  • 12 purslane // Dec 20, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    You’re not answering my question, but I will answer yours.

    1. The electricity would come from the same sources without wind as with wind. Or rather, the same amount of fuel would be used in standby or lower efficiency with wind on the grid, so it might as well be used to generate electricity without wind.

    2. For that reason, the adverse impacts of other sources are irrelevant to the discussion about wind, because they will not be reduced. Wind will only add its own adverse impacts — totally unnecessarily.

  • 13 asiegel // Dec 20, 2007 at 5:27 pm


    I am not answering your questions because they are becoming absurd.

    You are simply asserting that wind does not displace any fossil fuel electricity definition. This is simply not true and not worth my resources (time) to go and get you the evidence that, if you were being honest about this, you could find yourself.

  • 14 purslane // Dec 20, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    I have looked for years for the evidence that wind reduces fossil fuel use. I am not arguing that wind displaces electricity from fossil fuels. I am doubting that fossil fuel plants reduce their fuel consumption or emissions because of wind. As one learns about how the grid works, that is not an absurd contention at all.

    Crucially, the evidence (and lack of evidence otherwise) supports it.

    You are the one who made the unsupported statement that wind turbines save more birds than they kill. Forgive me for expecting a little scientific rigor.

  • 15 JSJ // Jan 3, 2008 at 2:24 am

    Check out –

  • 16 Environmental Capital - : Energy Security or Real Security? // Feb 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm

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  • 18 The cost of NIMBYism: Views vs Children’s Education // May 15, 2010 at 4:22 am

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    […] NIMBYism is a real challenge when it comes to moving forward with clean energy systems. NIMBYites, backed by coal money and fossil foolish interests, have been fighting the Cape Wind offshore wind project for years while poll after poll showed that the majority of local citizens supported this project. While it looks like this project might finally be moving forward, their fighting delayed the project by years; raising the eventual cost of that wind electricity while enabling 100,000s of additional tons of carbon dioxide to be spewed into the air from polluting electricity plants. Rather than a (barely) visible sign of a clean energy future, local residents have been helping dig our hole deeper through out-of-sight, out-of-mind emissions from a dirty electricity plant. […]