“If protecting my individual property rights and values makes me a NIMBY, then I wear the label proudly.”
I am a confessed NIMBY with strong feelings about government-enabled environmental degradation. I am not anti-windpower per se; I am, however, anti-bad ideas and anti-wasteful government spending of taxpayer money.
I am a NIMBY, but so is just about everyone. There are 314 million people in the U.S., virtually all of whom care about protecting their private property against intrusion, particularly unnecessary, wasteful, government-enabled intrusion. Critics are in denial of their own behavior when they criticize NIMBYs in the face of what some of us have faced with a proposed windpower development in our backyard.
‘Quiet enjoyment’ is the legal right of a property owner to enjoy his/her property in peace without interference. Specific legal ‘nuisances’ that interfere with the physical condition of the property (e.g., vibration, noise, pollution, raising or lowering the water table and/or affecting underground water supply), or interfere with the comfort, convenience, health, or mental tranquility of the occupant (e.g., blocked access, foul odor, excessive smoke / dust / shadow / light / sound / temperature) are torts – civil wrongs redressed by monetary damages or injunction.
But the wind developers retort: “NIMBY = Selfish” (‘I don’t want them near me, I don’t like the look of them’). After all, Wind Energy = Virtuous = Clean, green, and free.
How incomplete. You would think that wind ‘farms’ grow from seeds, need no maintenance, last forever, and don’t require full-time backup availability from other ‘dirty’ but reliable, constant, and dense power generation sources….
So let’s focus on the NIMBY argument for now and forget the other anti-wind positions, such as (among others): wind is intermittent and unreliable and not necessarily produced where or when we need it so backup power must be available from consistent and dense sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear; setback distances (to mitigate noise and shadow flicker etc.) from residences and property lines are arbitrary and based on local politics and industry pressure, not health, safety and sound science; and the wind energy is not yet proven to be environmentally safe or economically viable without significant federal (PTC), state (RPS), and local (tax abatement) subsidies.
What is a NIMBY? An individual or group of residents that oppose a proposal for some new type of development close to them, generally something deemed to be needed by society at large, like industrial parks and facilities, chemical and power plants, landfills, prisons, low-income housing, airports, and new highways. It’s assumed NIMBYs agree the ‘thing’ is needed, just ‘Not In My Back Yard.’
So what is really behind the NIMBY argument that ‘I don’t want them near me’? How about:
FIRST, I’m not convinced a wind farm in my backyard would do much to solve climate change; it’s just another useless attempt to ‘do something’ and give some folks a ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling.
The ‘core of wind resistance’ (to quote John Droz) is that ‘there has been no scientific assessment that wind energy is a cost-beneficial energy option – yet it is being forced on citizens.’ There’s an implied assumption, required to meet the NIMBY definition, that the ‘anti-wind’ side must agree wind energy is ‘needed’ in the same way that prisons, airports, and highways are needed. NIMBYs don’t believe this; that sort of trashes the idea of being ‘anti-wind’ as NIMBY (however, believing that wind farms are truly ‘needed’ but wanting to build them in somebody else’s backyard – isn’t that exactly what the wind developers do?
So who’s really a NIMBY?) Pro-wind energy advocates don’t like to discuss the ‘icky’ parts of wind energy implementation – all the stuff that is not ‘clean, green, and free’; they say that wind turbine ‘siting’ is ‘a local issue’, not a wind industry issue. Fine – then they should stay out of it.
To be ‘anti-wind energy’ does not mean you’ve buried your head in the sand about global warming. Some NIMBYs may say ‘just put them in far less populated areas’; but most anti-wind NIMBYs simply believe wind energy in its current state as ‘souped-up’ medieval technology (to quote Tony Fleming) and in an economic environment requiring relatively massive taxpayer assistance just to survive, is useless and makes no sense, and is not necessary at all, anywhere. We need better solutions.
SECOND, I don’t think a private company and the government should collude to change the rules for wind energy or other questionable commercial developments under the excuse of ‘the public good’.
Like most NIMBYs, when I bought my ‘backyard’ it was done with a set of laws in place (‘home rule’) relative to the local area land use in an agricultural zone, and I paid a price based on the market’s perceived value given the ‘permitted uses’ and its impact on lifestyle, view, etc. Those rules were established in the local county zoning ordinances.
Now, when someone comes along and wants to change those rules – say, by variance / special exception, by overlaying an industrial zone on top of the agricultural zone, or an attempt by the state to create a ‘siting board’ and usurp our right to ‘home rule’ in land use matters – and the end result is they get to steal my property value and my right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of my land without fair compensation, then you can bet I will take a stand and fight.
If a private company like Walmart convinces the local authorities that yet another big box store is ‘needed’ for the greater good and ‘public use’ so they attempt to seize your property and that of your neighbors via eminent domain, if you chose to fight, doubtful anyone would accuse you of destroying the planet and the environment with your selfish NIMBYism…
If a regulated public utility needed my land for, say, transmission towers or an electrical substation ‘for the greater good of society’ and it was approved by the powers that be, they may exercise their right of eminent domain (‘inverse condemnation’) and there’s not much I could do about it – and I do agree we need such things, they have to go somewhere. I can still negotiate for a fair market value of my condemned property; I may not like it and grieve the intangible loss, but at least I have not suffered a tangible financial loss.
Wind developers, however, are not regulated public utilities. These are private companies making secret deals with farmers to control tens of thousands of acres then pressuring the local government to change the rules in the developer’s favor. Many wind developers behave like the unscrupulous carpetbaggers of olden days, manipulating local politics (bribing officials with PILOT – Payment In Lieu Of Taxes – essentially a redistribution of taxpayer money via the subsidies they receive, for which the county officials can take credit as being used for its schools, parks, fire departments etc.).
They exploit the wind ignorance of the rural population for personal gain, and badgering little old ladies (who own large farms after the husband passes away) to sign unconscionable one-sided legal contracts by lying and saying ‘your neighbors have already signed and you will be hurting them if you don’t.’
The wind industry has no accountability and is subject to virtually no oversight or regulation. It’s the Wild West out there.
THIRD, I don’t see why only a few of us have to be forced to live in an industrial zone and risk suffering a potential loss of property value and rights, for the benefit of everyone else and at no cost to them.
Now let’s assume the ‘new development’ is the creation or expansion of an industrial park. The entire area (what, a few hundred or maybe even a thousand acres?) would be zoned ‘industrial’ and no one would be expected to, or even allowed to, live within it. Residential property owners would be bought out presumably at fair market value, and suffer no loss. The project cost would increase by the amount of the buy-outs and be passed on to the companies in the park and the taxpayers, because the business model will support the cost, and everyone is sharing some of the pain.
However, a large scale industrial wind farm can cover tens of thousands of acres – hundreds of square miles within just a single county, maybe even the entire county except for the towns. People in the rural areas are expected to continue living inside the new industrial zone! And without being compensated for the reduced value of their property, let alone the effect it will have on their lives. The cost and pain is not shared, but is borne only by the unfortunate non-participants – while participants cash checks.
The wind energy business model is already not profitable and cannot stand on its own; if the wind developer were similarly required to buy-out everyone who doesn’t want to live in the industrial zone at fair market value before the development, and that cost was added to the new development, imagine what the real cost of wind-generated electricity would be …
The wind industry maintains that the presence of turbines and wind farms have no adverse effects on rural residential property values. But statistics and mass data studies funded by biased pro-wind organizations are meaningless – full of spin, manipulation, and bad methodologies; for example, diluting the results by including undeveloped tillable farm land which is not affected; including the very farms which host turbines that have gone up in value because of the certainty of the cash flow from the lease income; and including rural properties up to ten miles away where values are not affected.
No one can tell you in advance exactly how a wind farm will affect your property value. All real estate prices are sensitive to location, ‘curb appeal’, and the quality of the view from the property. These matter even more so for rural residential properties, each of which is unique. ‘Comparables’ used to determine value are much more subjective for country residential real estate (therefore values are much more difficult to assess) than those for similar-type houses in a subdivision, so proof of loss cannot be ascertained from mass data studies, only from independent appraisals. An attempt to support a position citing a ‘study’ conducted using mass data from rural residential property sales is just plain silly. No realtor worth his/her salt would agree that you can assess the impact of a development on the value of a property without actually visiting the property! If, as the pro-wind side believes, property values don’t decline when a wind farm is in the view shed, then why don’t wind developers offer everyone nearby a ‘property value guarantee’ / PVG contract? You know why.
Ordinary citizens forming a grass-roots movement to fight for their property rights and values do not have an ‘agenda’ or the resources to pay for biased studies to support their position, unlike the wind energy industry. Ultimately, studies are unnecessary to prove what logic and common sense already tell you: if two identical properties are for sale, and one is very near a turbine with a dozen in sight (a ‘material adverse effect’), and the other is a few miles away and out of the view shed, which one do you think is more attractive to buyers and will get more offers and at higher prices? You know the answer.
Astute ‘non-participants’ also know that an ordinance with a setback from residences (as is sought by wind developers) rather than property lines means that unofficial (and what should be illegal) eminent domain has essentially been exercised over their property by a private company; a ‘no-build’ zone has been created on their land for the acreage between their residence and property line.
In other words, a setback of 1.1x turbine height (say, 440 feet for a typical turbine that is nearly 40 stories tall, although many are now going almost 50 stories) on the participant’s property to the shared adjoining property line, combined with an ‘industry standard’ of 1,000 feet to the foundation of a non-participant’s residence, results in a ‘dead zone’ of 10 to 20 acres that cannot be developed by the non-participant (e.g., cannot be sold to someone to build a house on it, for example).
While the participant landowner is cashing checks, what is the compensation received by the non-participant for this loss forced on him by the participant and allowed by the county ordinance? Zero.
FOURTH, leave me alone! My right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ does not take away anyone else’s rights.
NIMBYs don’t keep anyone from doing as they please with their property, within the already established limits of the law. The landowners that sign leases with the wind developers will try and argue that if the local government officials ‘side’ with the ‘anti-wind’ folks and approve more realistic, restrictive setbacks and ordinance provisions for health and safety, they are preventing the landowner / farmer from doing what they want with their own land. But this is wrong; no one is restricting anyone from conducting any agricultural activities and doing as he/she pleases with his own property within the already very broad ‘permitted uses’ as approved in a defined agricultural zone.
What the farmer/landowner really wants is more than what is allowed – the right to have a non-agricultural industrial power plant facility on his property. No one is planting or ‘harvesting’ the wind, and the structure is not a piece of farm equipment or a farm structure. And they want the non-participating neighbor to pay out for it of the loss of their property value and quiet enjoyment, by changing the rules to add a new and obtrusive permitted use.
Further, if he/she is an absentee landowner / farmer living in town and not on the land being leased, he/she doesn’t even have to live in the industrial wind zone but collects a check while his non-participating neighbor has to live with the effects of one or more of these 40- or 50-story turbines only 1,000 feet or so from his house!
Many farmers and participating landowners further justify their support to local government officials (being coached by the wind industry) saying ‘wind energy is the right thing to do’ – it’s clean, sustainable, renewable, will mitigate climate change and global warming, we need to do it for the kids and grandkids etc.
If they really believe that, then why are they cashing checks? Why are they not telling the wind developer to “keep the money and put up as many on my land as you want, it’s the least I can do to help”? Because wind development has nothing to do with green, renewable, sustainable energy – and everything to do with one company in a single industry and a small number of landowners all grabbing the government subsidy money from taxpayers as fast as they can while it lasts, while their neighbors pay the price.
If protecting my individual property rights and values makes me a NIMBY, then I wear the label proudly.
Nick Stanger, a member of Whitley County Concerned Citizens
(www.wcccitizens.org), successfully required a proposed industrial wind project by Wind Capital Group to have a one-half mile setback instead of the boilerplate 1,000-feet, as well as a zero shadow flicker on residences. This resolution, which took two years, sent the wind developer back to Chicago, not to be heard from again.
The bottom line is that we need to solve our technical problems by applying genuine science.
Wind energy is devoid or real science and instead is a lobbyist driven “solution”. As such it is little wonder that it is high cost, low benefit.
Some years ago, as an intervener in a Maryland Public Service Commission wind hearing, I asked the wind developer, who was under oath, how far he resided from his proposed wind project. Was it 50 miles, I asked? One hundred” One fifty? More than 200? “Stop me when I get close.” I knew the guy lived over 250 miles away–and in a gated community. And so my final question on the matter was, “I guess this project is not going to be in your back yard, is it?” To which the gallery responded with loud laughter, since the developer was well known for using NIMBY charge as an aspersion against those who challenged his massive scam. The term never arose again in Maryland.
Soon after, the developer began a media campaign for deregulating his industry, so it wouldn’t be hindered by a PSC hearing that would evaluate his project’s potential environmental, civic, socio economic impacts. When I hear similar calls for energy deregulation on this forum, I know it’s time to hold onto my wallet and my common sense.
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Thanks. I attended several public hearings in different counties, met with the wind developer, and have seen first-hand how this can impact an individual on a personal property development level aside from all the technical arguments against wind energy. The personal stories and subjective arguments in these hearings seem to have made the most sense and had the most impact on the citizens and local officials; the pro-wind side won’t listen, they just counter with their own made-up ‘facts’ and studies. So I believe there is a place for intuitive logic and reason even if not specifically supported by official studies.
MasterResource and similar sites do a great service in distributing information and analyzing the wind energy game from the engineering, technological, political, subsidies/PTC, environmental and economic perspectives – the ‘top down’ – in order to educate and help set national policy.
On the other side – the ‘bottom up’ – is where my perspective comes from. When you get home one night and find a ‘stuffer’ in your newspaper box written by a local person saying that a wind farm development is planned in your backyard, the leases have already been signed, there is a public hearing about it tomorrow and we need your support (!) – and no one even knew about it before – you realize a war just began. There is no more time to wait to see who gets elected President, if the PTC will/will not get renewed, if national policy can change and be more reasonable so all this goes away without a personal fight. The battle in your backyard begins today – and you have only one shot to keep these things from going in, otherwise you will live with them for the rest of your life (yeah, a ’45-year useful life’ they say, but the cement foundation and tower will still be there for 100+ years; they will certainly still be standing when I’m dead anyway).
At many public hearings, the local government officials will tell you that they will only accept comments from the public that relate to a specific issue or section of the ordinance being proposed – i.e., that they will only accept comments related to health, safety, property values and rights, nothing else. If you say you dislike the way wind turbines look, they’ll stop you; if you say you think alternative energy / wind farms don’t make environmental or economic sense and we don’t need them, they’ll stop you; if you mention the words ‘tax subsidies’, they’ll stop you (remember, these are going into agricultural areas, and no farmer ever met a subsidy he didn’t like – and these are elected and appointed county officials, they will not offend the farmers); if you mention the name of the ‘wind developer’ (or their desperate financial situation / lack of a deep pocket, their reputation for selling the developments off ASAP as ‘paper projects’ before construction so making oral promises they are not held to) or the ‘project’ itself, they’ll stop you (they’ll say “this is not about a project, it’s about the county ordinance – we are not approving any project tonight”). All you are left with is pretty much what I wrote; how it impact you personally, as a citizen of that county.
You can, of course (and we did), send copies of all the ‘top-down’ arguments to county officials, planning commission members, newspapers and media (who will probably ignore it since it’s not ‘local’), host educational public forums and provide handouts for the public as they entered the meetings, but for media ‘sound bites’ you only have what you’re allowed to say in the public hearings…
Anyway, not sure how much first-hand experience you’ve had with the ‘boots on the ground’ part of this fight when your personal property value and rights are at stake, so I just thought I’d throw that in. Thanks for your time and consideration.
I’ve had extensive experience with the jack boots on the ground part of the problem. It was the reason I started http://www.stopillwind.org so that people like you didn’t have to spend nearly as much time as I did coming to grips with this awfulness. You’ve described the situation perfectly–but it’s what hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been subjected to. It’s what happens when small time lawyers collude with local government and corporate franchises, using “parliamentary procedure” to screw right and reason for 30 pieces of silver. I’m continually amazed by how little people will sell out for. And what’s happening at the local level is merely a microcosm on what’s happening in state houses and Congress, with their retinue of bullies guarding the trough.
The confederacy of thugs and dunces enabling the wind mess should not be met with polite discourse.
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Great article. I’d been branded a NIMBY. That got me thinking about it more deeply. I realized that the NIMBY charge is nothing more than an attempt by a self-appointed elite to deny the rights of freedom of speech to others.
Nick: great article and comments following. Very proud to have been part of the “boots on the ground” team along with you.
This is exactly what happened in Taylor County, Texas in 2005. Florida Power & Light aka Next Era Energy now swooped into the county, did a raxzzle dazzle on the Taylor County Commissioners, and prohibited the greedy landowners not to divulge their takeover of the county. Before we had time to respond to a public hearing (about 1 week) the dirty deeds had been done. If Dyess Air Force base had not complained that some of the wind turbines in the Horse Hollow Wind Farm were in their direct flight path, the entire ridgeline would have been filled up with turbines. As it was only (Ha) 421 turbines were constructed making the Horse Hollow Wind Farm the largest wind farm in the United States at the time.
How easy was this to do? Quite easy actually. Dupping the County Commissioners into making decisions related to reinvestment zone changes and tax abatements by providing them with half truths, misinformation and in some cases out right lies. And of course, the creme de la creme–think of all the new money coming into the county especially for the sake of the school children. Never mind, that companies like Next Era Energy like most private sector profit making companies continued to do end runs around the tax districts and negotiate more generous property tax rates with the independent school districts directly here in Texas in order to reduce their costs.
Several landowners in south/southwestern Taylor County stood up to the wind indsutry and took them on in a lawsuit. But as could be predicted, the judicial and citizenry of the county in their uninformed wisdom at the time thought as most did that wind power was ‘good’ and beneficial for society. We now know differently. More information has come to light through the efforts of many concerned, objective citizens, and yes, if you will “NIMBYs” like myself who continue to ‘fight the good fight’. We do this to encourage others through education and objective scientific based facts. The first rounds went to the pro-wind advocates through stealth and cunning; those of us who believe in the “Only the Sensible” forms of renewable power will truly shape the future of our energy policy through objective, scientific-based education. We do not need stealth, cunning, and manipulation to win this war, only the truth will win it.
There are some very valid points here. Projects should not be thrown together with disregard for the local citizens. I can’t help but wonder though if these ‘rights’ spoken of are not much more severely infringed upon other lower class citizens given the standard for energy production. Wind may not always make the most sense, however it is an alternative to a lot of bad stuff that infringes on a multitude of rights. They just don’t happen to be yours at this point. And the wind does…
It really often times comes down to the fact that wind is likely to go up in locations where people of affluence live. Large percentages of other developments typically infringe disproportionately on the poor communities. I understand your trying to ‘own’ the NIMBY. You have owned it. But you haven’t flipped it around to be a valid argument across the board. Sometimes, absolutely. But not as an absolute opposition to wind projects.