(Editor’s Note: a WindAction editorial criticized an article by Ben Kelahan of The Saint Consulting Group as putting tactics over substance in countering opposition to wind farms. P Michael Saint responds below:)
By P. Michael Saint
Chairman and CEO, The Saint Consulting Group
In 25 years of being actively involved in battles over land use and in arguments made by opponents, I have never once heard a person say he or she was opposing the project because he or she was “just a NIMBY.”
Nor I have I heard an opponent claim he or she was simply afraid of change.
Nor have I ever listened to a passionate opponent rise at a city council meeting and declare, “I do not care what positive benefits this project may have for my community, my state, my region, my country or my planet, I am totally selfish and do not want this project to inconvenience me in the slightest.”
Rather, each opponent stands and claims the project will harm the community – increase traffic or pollution, endanger species or health or safety, or create negative conditions that far outweigh any benefits the project may create for the rest of society.
These opposition arguments always have enough validity to give the opponent some cover, to deflect the idea that what they are really saying is they are afraid of change, are too selfish to support a project that will have wide-scale public benefits or they are simply opposed to anything new for any reason.
In a written attack on one my colleagues, the author of an anti wind power editorial attempts to convince us that NIMBYs are really concerned environmentalists. He cites:
1) In North Carolina <http://www.windaction.org/news/22244> , state senators are deliberating on a bill which — as currently written — will ban large-scale wind energy facilities in the western mountains. Three of the four democratic mountain senators are holding firm in their support of the bill. Sen. Martin Nesbitt told the press “allowing large wind turbines would destroy our crown jewel”. An editorial <http://www.windaction.org/opinions/22295> in the local paper, which agrees with the turbine restrictions, made its case this way: “The locus of the debate isn’t over wind power itself, but of size, scale and most of all – location. … Here in the mountains, the challenges of wind farms are the challenges these mountains have faced for decades; how much change can be wrought before the fundamental nature, the very culture, of the mountains becomes lost? This goes beyond aesthetics. Wind farms require roads to move construction equipment, transmissio n lines to transport the power, etc.”
2) In Ontario <http://www.windaction.org/news/22290> , the Oxford County Federation of Agriculture (OCFA) requested an interim control bylaw that would prevent any wind farms from being built within the county. OFCA president John Van Dorp told the press that his organization is doing “whatever we feel we can [to] stop development until such time as the medical concerns are (studied). More and more we’re starting to have health issues in other areas that are (wind-farm) developments” Stating that OFCA has concerns about minimum setback distances he added, “We didn’t initially support the (not-in-my-backyard) people, but maybe there’s a valid reason why they don’t want it in their backyards.”
3) In Wyoming <http://www.windaction.org/news/22056> , the field office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a firm position opposing wind farms in Wyoming’s core sage grouse population areas. Field office supervisor Brian Kelly makes clear in his letter <http://www.windaction.org/documents/22146> to the State’s Game and Fish Department that “Constructing wind farms in core areas, even for research purposes, prior to demonstrating it can be done with no impact to sage grouse, negates the usefulness of the core area concept as a conservation strategy and brings into question whether adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place to protect the species”. The rules restricting development in the core area were developed in hopes of preventing the federal government from listing the sage grouse as a federally endangered or threatened species. The Service is unwilling to support mitigation options or ongoing scientific study concurrent with building and operating projects.
4) In Australia <http://www.windaction.org/news/22301> , the press ignored a significant ruling by the federal government that declared the Stockyard Hill wind energy facility “could have a significant impact on protected species and communities. By this declaration, the project will now be subject to closer scrutiny requiring further detailed studies by the developer rather than relying on its initial submissions. In other news, the Hepburn Shire Council <http://www.windaction.org/news/22264> adopted wind turbine siting guidelines that require a minimum of 2km between any wind turbines and private homes.
But look closely at each of these. Are they not simply just selfish NIMBYs hiding behind “legitimate” arguments?
NIMBYs often say the project is fine, “just not in this location because of ….” Wind turbines must be placed where there is wind, even if they block a view or require service roads or transmission lines. To say windfarms can’t be built where there is consistent wind is to say no wind farms should be built.
NIMBYs often call for delay so something can be “studied”. The real motive is not producing facts and laying outrageous claims to rest, but in causing delays that, they hope, will force the project proponent to give up because of the costs involved in lengthy delays.
NIMBYs say proponents must prove that a project will have “no impact” on a species – an impossibility. But never ask such questions as “what impact will continued use of fossil fuels have on the same species if windmills are not erected?”
NIMBYs always fight for more studies – the perfect delay, the perfect apparently reasonable request that is really designed to bankrupt the proponent.
Yes, there are legitimate concerns and questions that should be raised on every project, but let’s call a NIMBY by his real name. Many times the concerns raised with developers and city officials will produce mitigation or improvements to the project making it better. But many times the criticisms raised are only brought up to slow down or kill the project, not make it better.
P. Michael Saint is chairman, founder and CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org