Society

nimbyism vs. wind farms

Article published on Jan. 30, 2014
Article published on Jan. 30, 2014

The ben­e­fits of wind farms are al­most uni­ver­sally ac­cepted, and on­shore wind­mills are hailed as the most ef­fi­cient re­new­able en­ergy source cur­rently avail­able to us. When Britain is sup­posed to find 15% of its en­ergy from re­new­able sources by 2020, it is time to ques­tion why more areas aren't jump­ing at the chance to wel­come wind farms into their com­mu­ni­ties

NIM­BY­ism stands for ‘Not In My Back Yard’ – ism. It is the re­jec­tion of in­stal­ments such as wind farms or rub­bish tips in one's local area, all whilst fully ac­cept­ing their ben­e­fits else­where. As a na­tion, Brits sup­port re­new­able en­ergy – 82% of us, to be pre­cise. This fig­ure plum­mets down to only a half of us who are sup­port­ive of re­new­able en­ergy pro­jects in our own com­mu­ni­ties. Wind farms are big and, some would argue, un­at­trac­tive, and most new en­ergy ven­tures – from wind farms to frack­ing – are pro­posed in less-pop­u­lated areas. Tory peer Lord How­ell fa­mously put his foot in his mouth by claim­ing that there were plenty of 'des­o­late' areas in the north east per­fect for frack­ing op­er­a­tions. A scan­dal was duly caused.

The con­flict of in­ter­est is sim­ple: areas with smaller pop­u­la­tions, which are there­fore more suit­able for ex­ploita­tion for en­ergy pro­duc­tion, are usu­ally rural, and thus beau­ti­ful and beloved by their lo­cals. What is per­haps most ironic is that the peo­ple whose mis­sion is to pro­tect their area from the in­va­sion of re­new­able en­ergy pro­duc­tion may well be damn­ing their area (no pun in­tended), along with every­one else's, in the long term.

Bill Bryson said it him­self: 'Britain still has the most re­li­ably beau­ti­ful coun­try­side of any­where in the world. I would hate to be part of the gen­er­a­tion that al­lowed that to be lost.' Nim­by­ism is na­tion­al­ism on a mi­cro­scopic scale: peo­ple are pre­pared to risk the whole in order to pro­tect what­ever part they per­ceive to be theirs.

The pos­si­ble so­lu­tions

One pos­si­bil­ity is doing what the Green­wire pro­ject did: 

avoid NIM­BY­ism by chang­ing lo­ca­tions. Ire­land, per­haps less snobby than its British neigh­bour, snapped up the op­por­tu­nity to pro­duce on­shore wind en­ergy and sell it to us. More ef­fi­cient (and thus cheaper) than a sim­i­larly sized pro­ject off­shore, this in­stal­la­tion pro­vides Ire­land with huge fi­nan­cial re­wards. They make the money and the en­ergy. Britain's en­ergy is re­new­able and our pre­cious coun­try­side is un­tar­nished. The upper classes are con­tent.

The down­side of this plan, how­ever, is that 10,000 jobs that could com­fort­ably have gone to Britain's strug­gling econ­omy were in­stead ex­ported. Plus, in order to as­sure the en­ergy provider of good prices, our en­ergy costs nec­es­sar­ily hike.

An­other op­tion is to give hefty in­cen­tives to com­mu­ni­ties. Scot­tish wind farm op­er­a­tives have paid out ben­e­fits to the tune of over £5 mil­lion to the com­mu­ni­ties re­ceiv­ing them. I bet a wind farm looks far nicer when placed next to a shiny new vil­lage hall, along a well-main­tained cycle path. One such scheme helped a local cin­ema to re­open after thirty years.

Or is there an­other way?

Eng­land's biggest suc­cess story is the West­mill Wind Farm Co-op­er­a­tive in Swin­don. 100% com­mu­nity owned, its five tow­ers pro­duce enough en­ergy for 2500 av­er­age homes. A fund-rais­ing cam­paign en­abled the com­mu­nity to buy shares from the be­gin­ning; it has been their wind farm every step of the way. Watch­ing their video shows that this is a pro­ject by the peo­ple, for the peo­ple. The wind farm is not a blot on their land­scape. It is some­thing the com­mu­nity is proud of, and this pride shines through.

That's the way the world goes round

The idea of man's needs spoil­ing the land­scape is by no means a new one. Elec­tric­ity py­lons, train lines and ground-based satel­lites have all been hated and ral­lied against as soon as plans for their de­vel­op­ment pop up. The big dif­fer­ence, of course, is that all of these things con­tribute to car­bon emis­sions and global warm­ing, whereas wind farms help to min­imise them. When the val­ues of the green-life-liver and the green-grass-lover are con­flicted, we have a prob­lem: these two groups so often work to­gether to­wards aims that ben­e­fit each other, and in­deed every one of us.

The UK has a long way to go to catch up with its Eu­ro­pean neigh­bours, which is a shame, given the abun­dance of wind we have going spare. How­ever, with the gov­ern­ment cur­rently fo­cus­ing much of its ef­forts on frack­ing – UK min­is­ters re­cently ad­mit­ted that they are look­ing to over­turn tres­pass laws to allow com­pa­nies to frack under houses with­out the per­mis­sion of their own­ers – NIM­BYs will soon be able to re­turn to the right­eous protests of their pre­vi­ous lives, where green pol­icy and green views lie more com­fort­ably hand in hand.