NIMBYism vs. Wind Energy Battle Continues

Now that Cape Wind looks like it’s finally on its way to becoming a reality, the NIMBYism vs. wind power fight appears to have spread throughout New England. Is there any merit to the claims of the Not-In-My-Backyard crowd?

In an article about opposition to a proposed wind farm in Connecticut, one local journalist wrote the following, which pretty neatly sums up the NIMBY arguments:

“Although Flagg Hill residents extol the virtue of wind power as a way to combat global warming, they don’t want to see a wind farm from their front stoop. They say not only will the turbines be hazardous, ugly, noisy, and a danger to wildlife (read: birds hitting the turbine’s 115-foot blades), but they will sink home values. “I don’t have anything against wind power, but it should not be in a residential neighborhood,” [Eva] Villanova says.”

Maybe Ms. Villanova is right — residential areas do not strike me as great places for large-scale wind farms. Obviously you want to place wind farms wherever the wind is abundant and easiest to get to people’s homes, while avoiding any adverse effects to local communities and ecosystems. I’m not from the area so I can’t speak to whether or not the siting of this particular project makes sense. But there are a number of easy-to-find resources that could easily have debunked almost every other claim this writer attributes to his mostly nameless wind-power-detractors.

Hazardous to whom? The writer doesn’t say. So move along to…

Ugly? It’s not just the bleeding heart in me that makes me say: I find wind turbines quite elegant and impressive. But the point is, that’s a matter of subjective taste, and no reason to stop a project that even these very same opponents are willing to “extol” in the abstract as a “way to combat global warming.” The bigger point is this: Would you be willing to condemn the whole planet to suffer the ever-increasing impacts of global warming because you were concerned about an eyesore?

If you wanna talk about ugly: Have you seen a mountaintop removal coal mining project lately? Or, have you checked out a pic of the Gulf of Mexico lately?

Noisy? According to the American Wind Energy Association, this used to be a problem with early wind turbine models, but the noise issue has been greatly alleviated by advances in engineering and other adjustments. Today, as the AWEA puts it, “a wind turbine 300 meters away is no noisier than the reading room of a library.”

A danger to wildlife? Unfortunately, it is true that birds occasionally collide with wind turbines. Of course, they also occasionally fly into building windows, as well. Should we stop building buildings? Hell, remember that video where Randy Johnson pitches a 95 mph fastball and hits a bird? We gonna ban baseball?

I’m not trying to minimize the tragedy of bird deaths or anything, but this just strikes me as a particularly weak argument. It’s unfortunate that some birds might fly into the turbine blades, but check out this chart the AWEA has up showing just how minimal bird deaths from wind turbines are compared to several other manmade causes, such as pesticides, communication towers, vehicles, and buldings. Obviously we shouldn’t place wind farms in nesting areas or anything, but the impacts of wind turbines on birds are ultimately a localized effect compared to the global ramifications of runaway climate change being caused by the fossil fuel energy sources wind turbines would replace.

One of the scenes that struck me the most about The Age of Stupid, the global warming–themed, part-animated, part-sci fi, part-mockumentary film released last year, was the folks in the UK who successfully blocked a wind farm from being built in their local community. When asked if she didn’t consider global warming a problem, the ringleader of this particular NIMBY crew stumbled around for a bit, trying to explain that of course she’s concerned about global warming, but that this particular wind farm was just a bad idea because… well, because it was in her community. The fear in her eyes at being called out as a hypocrite was disturbingly evident, as it betrayed the obvious cognitive dissonance she was churning through to try and cough up an answer.

Oh and speaking of wind farms, opponents of wind energy apparently hate that term, I’ve learned, because farms are good things and they don’t see wind energy as good. So, long live wind farms!

Image credit: Greenpeace / Daniel Beltrá

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