A Free-Market Energy Blog

Private Property Rights vs. Industrial Wind/Solar: Reply to Giberson

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- June 15, 2023

“The systemic opposition of the locals to massive solar arrays and wind farms has created a new class of environmentalists. They live in and support greenery over government machining their living space. In contrast, the Washington, D.C. ‘environmentalists’ lobby and push from their concrete jungle. Going green and private property rights are aligned against Big Brother.”

The exchange (on Facebook) began with a post by Kevon Martis on the community pushback regarding a 1,000+ MW solar installation in Sanilac County, Michigan (see picture below). “Proposed Solar Farms Cause Community Concerns” reported concerns over water drainage (a recurring issue), and lower property values. Incessant noise and other issues can cross property lines in the case of industrial solar also. This is one battleground of many hundreds, of which nearly 300 wind/solar projects have been rejected or delayed in the U.S. alone.

Martis posted:

“Sanilac county conducted a study looking into how the development of alternative energy farms on working agricultural land could impact the community’s economy. The study showed that for every one-percent of agricultural ground lost to solar and wind development, there is a $6.4 million economic loss to the community.

The study showed that 47% of the survey’s respondents strongly opposed large-scale solar energy development in Sanilac County. When asked whether they supported solar energy development in Sanilac County if it displaced agricultural land, 63% of respondents said they strongly opposed it. The main reasons centered on the loss of agricultural land and the impact solar farms would have on property values.”


Michael Giberson of R Street posted a question for Martis:

If the property owner wants the solar power installation, on what grounds should neighbors and county officials (i.e., people who do not own the property) be able to interfere?

To which I responded: “a wholly government-enabled project paid in part by Martis and other taxpayers—and that weakens the grid (intermittency)—deserves a lot of scrutiny, don’t you think?”

Giberson responded: “[Does] this standard also apply to farmers wanting to grow corn ending up in gasoline? Can neighbors stop corn growing?”

To which I answered:

On the ethanol analogy, there are several weaknesses. First, ethanol has a niche as an oxygenate in a free market–the mandate is what is the problem. Wheat for any use (including bread) is rather ordinary on the countryside–and quite different from an industrial wind turbine or a solar ‘farm.’ Is there another analogy that might work better?

Giberson: No analogy is perfect, but if mandates that can cause downstream problems is the issue both solar and corn share that feature. Solar has a free market niche, too. And, in both cases, using local interventions/impositions on property rights is an ineffective tool for addressing problematic federal problems. Local officials are, for the most part, not prepared to fix regional or federal electric power policy failures. We ought not empower them to try.

Bradley: First, we are speaking about solar farms, not off-grid solar applications that do have a free market niche. So your analogy with ethanol and solar farms is errant. Is there another analogy? …. Second, is there any reason to favor solar farms such as the above against grassroots opposition?

Giberson: Yes obviously there is a reason to favor property owners doing what they want with their property no matter what the neighbors think. Sure, thousands of local governments violate this presumption of personal liberty, but let’s not encourage this sort of thing.

By the way, I have the same view for natural gas pipelines. If someone is willing to host one on their own property, no amount of grassroots opposition should overcome the owners’ prerogatives. (Neighbors have a reasonable interest in the pipeline being operated in a manner that does not place their own property at risk, but that’s about it. A local solar farm is unlikely a direct threat to the neighbors.)

Bradley: You have shifted the debate from your analogy about ethanol. Wheat is wheat; and a (government, taxpayer) central-station solar array does not ‘blow in the breeze.’ Is there another analogy? The natural gas pipeline analogy is different because the pipe is below ground and is not government enabled. (Homestead theory can also apply.)

“A local solar farm is unlikely a direct threat to the neighbors.” This is erroneous, and the local authorities with flood control and drainage responsibilities are concerned in the post above. Near where I live, this issue is an important one.

Giberson: No response ….


This is an interesting debate. Private property is one thing; a private party entering into a contract with a government-enabled party that introduces harms for neighbors–each of whom are involved as taxpayers (via ITC for solar)–is another.

Giberson’s analogy with ethanol failed on close inspection; a solar farm (or industrial wind turbine) is another animal than wheat growing. I have (unsuccessfully) asked for another analogy or example that makes the private property right of a hosting a solar or wind project immune from the harms imposed on the private property rights of neighbors. (He is invited to add a comment on here at MasterResource to hash out the issues in more detail.)

Giberson opined against local opposition to federal energy policies. But if the policies pit energy freedom against energy statism, under a private property perspective, it would seem to be both appropriate and strategic to push back against Big Brother. And devolved government–that seems very appropriate where the locals can seek grassroot checks for Rank Statism that threatens them via electricity rates and power outages.

Another question for Giberson. If private property rights (as he defends them) are sacrosanct in the case above, what about the property rights of an investor-owned electric utility’s transmission property (the mandatory open access issue). Or a gas ban in the home, surely the most private of private property and a frontal assault on basic energy freedom. If Giberson pulls out the ‘market failure’ argument against utilities, he should also consider ‘government failure’ in the rights of competing private property owners.


The irony of it all. Environmentalists used to be against long transmission lines–now they worship them to get wind and solar from nowhere to somewhere. Environmentalists used to be against sprawl–but wind and solar are the very definition of industrial sprawl. And capitalist cronyism–the wind/solar rent-seekers are somehow the good business leaders.

The systemic opposition of the locals to massive solar arrays and wind farms has created a new class of environmentalists. They live in and support greenery over government machining their living space. In contrast, the Washington, D.C. ‘environmentalists’ lobby and push from their concrete jungle with a different green. Going green and private property rights are well aligned against Big Brother when it comes to on-grid wind/solar.


Appendix: MasterResource posts on grassroot environmentalism

Wind-financed Exposé against Kevon Martis Backfires (May 1, 2023)

Are Grassroot Wind/Solar Foes ‘Cultish’? (Peter Sinclair vs. Kevon Martis again) (March 3, 2023)

No! to New York Wind in the Great Lakes (NYS Energy Research and Development Authority verdict) (January 9, 2023)

Industrial Wind Turbines: Report from Ground Zero (March 24, 2022)

“As Anti-Wind Zoning Ordinances Spread Across Michigan” (grass-root environmentalists vs. energy sprawl) (February 10, 2022)

Martis in the Solar and Wind Fight: The Latest (August 30, 2021)

Martis vs. Smucker: Industrial Wind on Defense (July 16, 2021)

Kevon Martis: Common-good Foe of Industrial Solar and Wind (July 27, 2020)

Wind and Solar Ramp-up Problematic (July 28, 2020)

Big Wind Throws in the Towel in Lapeer County, Michigan (June 3, 2020)

New York’s Cuomo vs. the Grassroots on Wind & Solar (March 11, 2020)

Tom Stacy On Wind Power: At the (Ohio) Grassroots (September 20, 2017)

Grassroots: NO to the Wind PTC (December 9, 2015)

Wind2050: A Dystopian Society? (Vestas, et al. go Orwellian against anti-windpower grassroots) (March 4, 2014)

National Wind Watch: Organizing the Grassroots Against Industrial Wind (April 1, 2011)

Beyond NIMBY: A Grassroots Strategy to Defeat Windpower (May 29, 2010)


  1. Michael Giberson  

    Rob raised many issues in your commentary. Here I’ll mostly stick to just those raised in the comments in the original Facebook comment exchange.

    See: https://www.facebook.com/orville.fontucus/posts/pfbid02ma4gJ52AM48xAbzmgBsTCZsNQQSzrBVXiVD1DQrtfTEf1ZohidXKBFwJD8fXi869l

    First, while I am identified as “of R Street,” this exchange was via my personal Facebook account and nothing I say there should be taken as anything other than my personal opinion. I do not clear my personal Facebook posts with them, they are not responsible for the content I post via my personal Facebook account. I’m just posting as a guy with a long background in energy policy topics and an interest in small government. Kevon’s post suggested that a farm owner’s desire to host a solar project was being opposed by neighbors who where mobilizing local government to stop a private property owner from engaging in entirely legal behavior on his own property. It seemed like a bad idea to encourage the use of government to interfere with a farmer doing what he wanted to do on his own property.

    The core issue concerns when neighbors objections can overrule a property-owners private use of their own property. I suggested private property owners should generally be free to use their property how they like. Rob indicated that substantial tax-breaks given to solar project developers and electric power stability issues gives neighbors reason enough. Later in the thread he mentioned flood control and drainage concerns.

    The tax breaks mentioned are federal policies. Taxpayers ought to mobilize against wasteful spending and distortionary tax breaks, including vast distortionary energy policies. I doubt any neighbor of the proposed project in Tuscola County, MI has calculated just how much of an added tax burden they’ll experience due to the project. I doubt the tax break is a significant motive, my guess is that many companies operating in Tuscola County take advantage of federal tax incentives and these neighbors do not oppose their use of tax incentives. Anyone concerned about federal tax policy should raise the issue with the U.S. Congress rather than the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners.

    The “electric power stability issues” are not spelled out, so Rob you can clarify which issues exactly you mean if relevant. I don’t know of any direct impact on neighbors from a large solar array connecting to the bulk transmission grid. Neighbors will be connected to the power system through a local distribution system which will have power quality systems in place that should protect the neighbors from transmission grid power quality issues. There are other kinds of concerns relative to solar power and the bulk power grid, but again, the local county commission is not equipped to address these issues.

    Drainage and flood control are significant local issues. The solar project should be subject to the same requirements that would apply to any other property owner in Tuscola County. If the solar project causes direct harm to a neighboring property, it should be liable in court for damages in the same way as any other harm. So far as I am aware, there drainage issues are not common with solar power installations, so special restraints are unlikely to be called for.

    My general request to Rob is for a consistent set of standards. In the Facebook comment thread Rob objects to a solar power project for reasons of federal subsidies, electric power quality, and potential water runoff issues. The linked story also mentions potential environmental contamination and noise complaints.

    Oil and gas companies also take advantage of tax policies. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because the company used MACRS depreciation methods or other tax benefits?

    Oil and gas development, particularly for projects using hydraulic fracturing, have been opposed because of potential local water contamination issues. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because of potential local water contamination issues?

    Oil and gas development, particularly for projects using hydraulic fracturing, have been opposed because of noise issues. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because of noise issues?

    Oil and gas development, particularly for projects using hydraulic fracturing, have been opposed because of water runoff concerns. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because of water runoff concerns?

    I am not opposed to oil and gas development, not in the least. I taught energy economics and energy policy in a energy program at a university business school to students most of whom went to work in the oil and gas industry. My goals were for them to understand oil and gas economics and public policy in order for them to do the best job they could in helping produce oil and gas. When I was blogging regularly at The Knowledge Problem I regularly challenged or mocked critics of hydraulic fracturing for their biased or weak arguments.

    In the story Martis shared on Facebook about the solar project proposed in Tuscola County, MI, one concerned citizen mentioned the possibility of PFAS contamination of the water supply. It is the sort of junk science concern that would be dismissed out of hand by Rob if it were alleged to result from oil and gas developments. So far as I could tell by a quick google search: there are no documented cases of PFAS contamination associated with solar PV installations, one analysis reported no solar PV makers currently use products made with PFAS, most concerns about PV-related PFAS contamination appear to be raised by local groups opposing a PV project. (Environmental groups oppose oil and gas development because of potential PFAS contamination. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because of potential PFAS contamination?)

    Of course the content of the Master Resource blog is not the issue here. The issue here is whether a private property owner in Michigan can contract with a solar PV developer and have a solar farm installed on his property. Neighbors have objected on a variety of grounds. My position is that the neighbors interests are best limited to those that threaten direct harm to adjacent property owners when those harms are not well addressed by current property law or current regulation.

    The harm to neighbors from solar subsidies to this one project is indirect and likely miniscule. Is it even plausibly more than $1 total burden for immediate neighbors? Not a respectable reason to interfere with this property owner in Michigan. The water runoff issues are likely already well addressed in local regulations and in property law, and it seems unlikely that solar PV causes worse water problems than other agricultural uses of land in the area.

    And so on. None of the issues raised seemed to me to be good enough to warrant attempts to interfere with the private property rights of the owner.


  2. rbradley  

    This study finds that industrial wind turbines depress neighboring home values:


    It the homes were there first, and the wind project is government enabled, does a tort exist?


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