NIMBY Knows No Borders

The article below was Published June 2012 in Environmental Leader Magazine.

It’s no secret that, in consumer-oriented societies like the United States, energy consumption and the environmental ramifications of our consumption are always front and center in the public consciousness. So it’s no wonder that here at home we are already exploring a variety of alternative energy sources-ones that are cleaner and readily abundant. However, to say that support is not absolute is an understatement. Paradoxically, despite its necessity, for every attempt to develop renewable energy resources, there is an attempt by opposition groups to resist it. Whether it stems from reluctance to change or speculative concerns for community safety, public opposition can halt or even end clean energy projects.

Take the town of West Windsor, New Jersey, as an example.

Throughout the month of May, 2012, Mercer County Community College faced a considerable wave of opposition from Windsor residents concerning the construction of a 69-acre solar farm on the college’s campus. Resident concerns over land use and financial viability prompted local government officials to become involved in a series of public meetings. Opposition to the project has since been growing, and tenuous relationships between the opposition group, the college, and the developer have been the bone of contention for the project.

But if grassroots opposition to clean energy projects at home is bad, just one glance across the ocean reveals that public opposition to clean energy projects is not only restricted to the United States; it is endemic.

In the UK, a £35 million wind farm was intended to be built near the Yorkshire coast. Plans for this development have faced considerable delays amid growing backlash by residents and politicians. Despite a range of environmental improvements that a clean and renewable energy source would bring-this development that could see up to nine 132m wind turbines built, and the financial incentives it would bring to the local economy- up to £1.8 million over the wind farm’s 25 year lifespan, residents and politicians still oppose the development on the grounds of aesthetics and land use concerns.

In Germany, following the Fukushima accident, the federal government has been gradually making the shift from nuclear power plants to wind and renewable energy resources. Although more than 80% of public opinion supports the development of wind farms dotted along the German mainland, there exists a persistent and well organized opposition of 70 local protest campaigns nationwide. Especially in the heavily populated regions of Eastern Germany, opposition groups raise concerns about overhead power lines that would transport generated electrical energy.

In India, where the need for improvements in energy generation is very apparent, attempts have been made to develop thermal and hydro-electrical power plants, biomass energy sources, and solar power. Despite efforts by developers to modernize India’s methods of energy production, they have been met by considerable opposition, particularly from rural residents. Often times these residents oppose these projects on the basis that it could damage ecosystems or that the cost would outweigh the energy uptick.

So, while NIMBY-ism is traditionally viewed as being industry-targeted or locale-specific, in a time of unprecedented inter-connectivity, ideas of geographical, political, or cultural boundaries on NIMBY-ism are necessarily redefined. Opposition to energy projects do not exist in isolation, NIMBY-ism has become an international issue.

The recent disputes between Vermont and the bordering Canadian town of Stanstead over Vermont’s plans to build two wind turbines just 1,000 feet away from some Vermont and Canadian homes illustrates this shift in the nature of NIMBY-ism. In Quebec, there are requirements for wind turbines to be at least 1,500 feet away from homes. Homeowners in Quebec are calling for those restrictions to be met, whereas in Vermont, the standard is based upon the noise made by the turbines. Such a conundrum raises questions about how NIMBY-ism is handled when both parties seem to be justified. Questions such as how a project can be approved or who approves it or how to counter opposition on multiple fronts become difficult to answer.

But most troubling of all is that an international form of NIMBY-ism presents serious global challenges to the reality of a clean energy future. In a time when the world is constantly trying to cope with greater and greater energy demands and traditional energy resources are not only harming the planet, but are quickly being exhausted, finding energy alternatives is one of the defining issues on the world stage.