Dealing with NIMBYism a balancing act
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says he’s not prepared to tolerate NIMBYism regarding renewable-energy projects when community concerns go beyond health, safety and environmental concerns. In other words, those who oppose wind turbines, biomass facilities and solar farms “just because” — i.e. because they don’t like the look of them, because they think wind energy is uneconomical, because they think climate change is a crock, because they believe it will affect property values — won’t be permitted to derail projects by manipulating local and provincial regulations.
McGuinty said the province’s new Green Energy Act to be tabled later this month will aim to streamline/clarify/override local bylaws and regulations that can be used by certain groups to delay or stop proposed renewable-energy projects.
It’s a laudable goal. As McGuinty has said, achieving energy and climate change targets is a tradeoff, and while not all projects are perfect most renewable-energy projects are far better than the alternative: coal and natural gas. At the same time, the province must do a better job of assuring communities that the technologies being used are safe and don’t have an unacceptable impact on the environment — i.e. bird populations, fish, etc… One approach is to pre-screen potential areas. That is, instead of assessing sites on a case-by-case basis, it might speed up things if certain sensitive sites are excluded from the outset.
On the issue of health, debate will continue over whether wind turbines cause sickness or unnecessary noise. Hell, welcome to the 21st century. The same debate still exists around cellphones, Wi-Fi networks, chemicals in food, and a thousand other issues. If we killed every projects because a couple people claim it causes them headaches, we’d never get anywhere.
The best way the government can reach a compromise is to come out with clear guidelines regarding set-back restrictions for turbines. Right now there’s no hard and fast rule, but I think the setback from a residential property is currently well under 100 meters. Increasing that setback, say to between 200 and 500 meters depending on the zoning, would go a long way in satisfying those who are concerned about noise and ice shedding. Rules should also make clear the responsibility that wind developers have in decommissioning or rejuvenating sites once the equipment reaches the end of its life. There’s a perception in many of these communities that old rusty turbines and concrete bases will just be left there like an eyesore. If this isn’t true, then the province needs to communicate this fact.
The bottom line is bad rules that allow for unnecessary delays must be replaced with good rules that make it absolutely clear how projects should be responsibly developed. McGuinty is right to crack down on NIMBYism, but at the same time he needs to recognize that some of those NIMBYers aren’t against the projects per se — they just want the plans tweaked or just want more clarity on the rules. This is quite reasonable.
For this reason, it’s unwise to paint all NIMBYers with the same brush. The fact is, some wind sites are just plain stupid and should be challenged, if not to kill a project then to at least fine-tune it.