NIMBYism: a global obstacle to a renewable energy future

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. 


27 responses to “NIMBYism: a global obstacle to a renewable energy future

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Purslane.

    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. 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. Purslane,

    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. 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.

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  17. Thank you, Purslane:

    For challenging spin on avian life at risk by wind turbines and this kind of propaganda:

    “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.”

    Michael Fry
    Director of Conservation Advocacy
    American Bird Conservancy
    1731 Connecticut Ave., NW
    Washington, DC 20009:

    “The mortality at Altamont Pass has increased with larger, modern turbines, not decreased. The 2007 report for the California Energy Commission by the industry confirms this. Efforts to reduce mortality to conform with the agreements made with Alameda County have not been successful. The research biologist Shawn Smallwood at Davis, CA has an enormous amount of data and several published papers.”

    The negative effects of windfarms: links to papers published by Mark Duchamp

    Pictures of birds killed by windfarms, etc.

    “Even then, the scientists opined that a four-month shutdown might only reduce deaths by roughly 30 percent.” Altamont

    Chilling Statistics FOOTNOTE nº 25

    Chilling Statistics

    Windfarms, ornithologists, and bird societies :


    The dark side of windfarms :

    Pictures of windfarm victims ( eagles etc. ), of turbines on fire, of collapsed turbines, of soil & water contamination etc. :

  18. Barbara — you are simply and purely ignoring key words: “well sited”. Anyone who wants to argue that, across all parameters, Altamont is “well sited” is clearly not playing within reality-based discussions.

    So, for you and others, if not wind as part of the energy mix moving forward, then what are you offering?

  19. National Wind Watch, at , has been collecting information about the many adverse impacts of industrial wind, as well as the low potential benefit, for years. Check out their Resource Library.

  20. More birds die flying into home picture windows than into modern turbine towers (cylindrical) that are well-sited.
    In Massachusetts we are way behind the state’s goal to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by increasing the capacity of renewable energy to provide electricity precisely because of local opposition. In Western Massachusetts we lost a small wind farm in Florida, MA. Cape Wind, being the poster child for unscrupulous NIMBYism, has just received its final environmental permits opening the way to construction. The opposition, however, will continue to stop the project. Read the book “Cape Wind.” It’s an easy (and disturbing) read done by two reporters who smelled something fishing in the statements and actions of Cape Wind opponents.
    One small shining example of a municipally owend and operated wind turbine can be found in Hull, MA at the tip of the island. They have added a second turbine because of the success of the first one. See
    I represent developers proposing to build a 50MW biomass plant in Western Massachusetts and the local opposition has been spearheaded by a very talented, obsessed resident who has opposed every single project proposed on the Town of Russell’s 100-year-old industrial site. The town fathers have been seeking industries to replace the shuttered paper mills which used to provide a substantial portion of the town’s annual revenues.
    One advantage of biomass over wind with respect to electric power generation is that wind turbines provides peak load power (intermittent) while biomass can provide base load power (24/7).
    Opponents of any socially desireable project from low income housing and half-way houses to cell towers and renewable energy facilities have enormous access to various appeal processes.
    Opponents, unless they are taken to court, do not have to verify their assertions while renewable energy developers are required by more than two dozen permitting requirements to provide a factual basis for their proposals.
    What it comes down to in many of the NIMPBY examples I have researched is the triumph of individual rights (or interests) over greater community good.

  21. John B: I know you work for wind developers but, “Socially desirable” wind projects?

    LOL, who desires to pay double current cost for Cape Wind energy, and pay for 77% of project construction costs approaching $2 bn., and fund as ratepayers and taxpayers, project bonding, infrastructure and transmission upgrades and the costly operation and maintenance O&M contract?:

    The Cape Wind MMS DEIS Appendix F:

    “Given the estimated cost of energy is $122/MWh, twice that of the current market and that this is after the full benefit of tax and RPS incentives, the prospects of entering a long-term purchase power contract would seem low.”

    Boston Globe,
    September 21, 2008

    ‘The answers, to him, are blowing in the wind; Vestas chief sees untapped energy source in US’

    “Vestas Wind Power is the largest global supplier of wind turbines, with 35,500 installed worldwide and more than 15,000 employees.”

    Vestas CEO and President states:

    “We’ve got more than 100 wind projects in the works currently, many of them only one or two small turbines. The largest is Cape Wind, a 130-turbine offshore project. I think if you look at wind resources on-shore in the US, they are fantastic. And, therefore, I am really wondering why anybody wants to put them up offshore because it’s twice the price. So just as an outsider, I am just scratching my head saying, “Why?”

    “windfarm” failures in the UK alone:

    A comprehensive wind turbine accident report:

    Caithness Windfarm Information Forum
    30 September 2008

    The summary may be downloaded in printable form:

    The full accident list may be downloaded here:

    61 reports on wind turbine structural failures

    “Windmills on roofs and cycling to work are insignificant in practical consequence, but that is to miss their point. Every ideology needs rituals of observance which demonstrate the commitment of adherents. Business should treat the environmental movement as it treats other forms of religious belief. Business leaders do not themselves have to believe its doctrines. Indeed we should be wary if they do: business linked to faiths and ideologies is a sinister and unaccountable power.”

    Au Contraire’, John B., proponents, unless they are taken to court, do not have to verify their assertions.

    WindCats and PetroCats are one in the same involved in the diversification of their energy investment portfolios. ShellWind, and Enron Wind are examples. Enron got its start in wind energy at Altamont Pass, CA.

  22. Maria T. Fotias

    The residents of the cycladic island of Kythnos, are very proud of the wind farm installed on their island. Maybe we should notify of that the residents of Sifnos. Jealousy works better than common sense!!

  23. What a load of rubbish typed here by anti wind farm nutters.

    Wind farms produce real power – in the year to March 2005 onshore wind farms produced 1,734 gigawatt hours of power. A lot more is produced now.

    So what do the NIMBY’s say about that power? Where is it going – do you say it doesn’t exist ?

    They are just selfish nimbys, complaining about a real solution to climate change and emissions. Selfish nimby’s who’d rather watch us burn.

  24. The grim realities of “politically attractive but marginal forms of renewables energy” include fuel poverty and BLACKOUTS.

    The UK is “ahead” of us with wind energy…

    Barbara, Amusing that you are blaming overall problems within the entire British system (energy production and usage) on wind power. A convenient thing to point to. Your obstinate and wrong-headed opposition to wind power does not help the world community advance to a less polluting, more prosperous, climate-friendly future.


    Power cuts ‘could spark disorder’
    Sunday September 7,2008
    By Jason Groves

    Britain is “quite simply running out of power” and blackouts are almost inevitable within the next few years.

    This is the stark warning from the head of an energy think-tank who believes power cuts could be serious enough to spark civil disorder.

    Campbell Dunford of the respected Renewable Energy Foundation said: “It’s almost too late to do anything about it. Nothing will stop us having to pay very high prices for power in future.

    “If we pull our finger out now we can limit blackouts but it’s going to be pretty grim whatever happens.”

    Gordon Brown pledged last week to end Britain’s reliance on the “dictatorship of oil” but Mr Dunford believes the Prime Minister’s new interest in the security of energy supplies may have come too late.

    Only last Thursday, National Grid issued an urgent call for power after a series of power station breakdowns. Suppliers were asked to bring all their available generating capacity online, including costly oil-fired stations.

    In May, hundreds of thousands of people in Cleveland, Cheshire, Lincolnshire and London suffered blackouts when seven power stations were closed.

    The electricity industry estimates it needs to spend £100billion on new stations to ensure supplies.

    The “retirement” of a string of nuclear and coal-fired power stations will see 37 per cent of the UK’s generation disappear by 2015, partly because of EU environmental directives.

    An REF report predicts that the neglect of the power infrastructure will lead to a series of grim consequences, particularly electricity and gas price rises as Britain could be held to ransom by such foreign energy producers as Russia.

    Blackouts could force the Government to impose electricity rationing, last seen in the Seventies. The REF report says the Government “should prepare itself to intervene with social policy to prevent hardship and maintain order”.

    It criticises ministers for focusing too heavily on such untried renewable energy sources as wind and tide power, rather than making sure that secure new power generation was put in place.

    The report concludes: “A near fatal preoccupation with politically attractive but marginal forms of renewables seems to have caused a blindness towards the weakening of the UK’s power stations and a dangerous and helpless vulnerability to natural gas.”

    The REF warns that as many as nine million people could be plunged into fuel poverty, defined as spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy bills.

    Ministers are already under massive pressure to do more to help people trapped in fuel poverty this winter because of soaring prices. Up to six million families are expected to face a stark choice between heating and eating following the series of massive energy price rises that have made a mockery of Labour’s target to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016.

    Mr Dunford said worse was to come: “Certainly we’re going to be heading to eight or nine million in fuel poverty.

    “The people who are vulnerable are old people and the single mums. They rely on power.

    “If you are a single mum 14 storeys up in Hackney, you depend on electricity for everything in your life, even the water pumped to your flat, the lifts, the food and so on.

    “There’s a very real chance that power, will not even be there when you need it. That’s when you start worrying about social disorder.”

    Ministers have launched a belated plan to plug Britain’s energy gap, including the construction of a string of nuclear power stations. power stations take up to a decade to build though and many experts believe the Government’s move has come too late.

  25. Note to unidentified, editor?

    It is not I who attributes, it is the Renewable Energy Foundation think tank who attributes:

    “A near fatal preoccupation with politically attractive but marginal forms of renewables seems to have caused a blindness towards the weakening of the UK’s power stations and a dangerous and helpless vulnerability to natural gas.”

    Wind energy is not about the environment. It’s about turf, taxes, and multinationals.

    Renewable Energy World

    “The clean tech sector is the fastest growing area of the venture asset class and fertile ground for growth and profits, said Ira Ehrenpreis, general partner, Technology Partners, and conference chairman. The environment and profit go hand in hand, according to Ehrenpreis. “Clean tech is all about the green, not the environment,” he said.”

    Source, the Chairman of the Clean Tech Investor Summit: “The Clean Tech Investor Summit, now in its fifth year, brought venture capitalists and emerging clean tech companies from diverse sectors together in Palm Springs, CA, in January, for two days of panel sessions and networking opportunities.”

    ‘The wind industry tells the truth’

    Thank You,


  26. Thanks for offering advice on starting and maintaining a windmill farm. Being able to harness this renewable energy source would seem to produce inexpensive clean energy. Good post.

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