How to deal with a NIMBY

27 05 2010

There is little controversy when discussing the need for more renewable energy sources in the United States’ energy mix, with emphasis on solar and wind power. The controversy begins when it comes to deciding where the physical infrastructure for these energy sources will be placed.

This has led to the (somewhat derogatory) term “NIMBY,” which stands for “Not in my Back Yard.” It describes people who may be enthusiastic about the prospect of the renewable energy industry but do not want its associated physical infrastructure in a place where it will affect the appearance of their properties.

An unfortunate consequence of renewable energy developers being pushed to put more and more wind farms on the grid is that they have become a bit overzealous. Plans and permits are issued quickly and residents who will live nearby these windmill farms ultimately complain. Not all complain, just a few.

This makes it extremely important to get feedback from residents who live near proposed wind and solar farms before beginning any planning on the placement of windmills or solar panels begins. Since we are installing infrastructure that will likely be in place for decades, these windmills and solar power plants will not just be infrastructure – they will be neighbors. It is important to get along with your neighbors, especially when you are trying to improve the public perception of renewable energy nationwide.

If a windmill needs to take a slight performance hit in order to not make a serious impact on the appearance of the landscape, then that is a fair compromise. Saving an unnecessary fight with local residents in exchange for a slight drop in efficiency is not really a drop in efficiency.

Having comprehensive public participation would probably be of more importance in the northeastern states, where population density is much higher than in areas such as the midwest and the southwest. More people would be affected by a new windmill in rural Vermont than in rural Illinois simply because the states are smaller and there is a higher overall population density in Vermont.

If you ever find yourself faced with a “NIMBY,” get them all together and tell them where to put the windmill. They will figure it out.

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