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.

10 thoughts on “Dealing with NIMBYism a balancing act”

  1. the difference between NIMBYism and somebody challenging a project so that it is ‘fine tuned’ is quite large.

    glad mcguinty is trying to shut down all these people against many good projects that seem to be from ‘past generations’….statistically speaking of course 😉

  2. “…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.”

    I’m all in favour of shifting to renewable energy as fast as possible, but I have to ask: Am I really the only person who thinks it’s a bad idea to give a central government the power to override a local one by, in effect, deciding for itself whether the affected citizens’ reasons for protesting a particular policy are “good” or “bad”?

    Sometimes we forget that the important part of NIMBY is not the word NOT but the word MY. If it really is your back yard, you should have the right to say “no”.

  3. Now people standing up to protect their communities is bad. Letting a dictator in Toronto decide how everything is planned throughout the entire province is good.

    Asking for adequate setbacks and safety regulations from family homes is bad. Having a politicians tell the citizens what they are and are not allowed to raise concerns about is good.

    I have lost a lot of faith and trust in the green movement as too many times I have seen fascism applauded. Give your heads a shake!

  4. That sounds like a commercial wind lobbyist blogging. Mr Hamilton obviously does not understand the well-documented health issues associated with the improper siting of commercial wind farms. Increase the setbacks between 200m and 500m?? WHAT A JOKE! Triple the 500m max setbacks to 1500m from residential and you are there (marginally). If you can’t responsibly site a wind farm that respects the health and rights of all those in the community (not just those land leaseholders compensated by developers), then the project should not proceed OR the developer should seek out a less intrusive location. I imagine Mr. Hamilton would feel quite differently if his house was in the shadow of these industrial behemoths.

  5. Common tactic of anti-wind folks:

    1) Label everyone who supports wind a “wind lobbyist.”

    2) Claim there is well-documented health issues though fail to present peer-reviewed studies demonstrating these concerns.

    3) Claim that an entire community is against wind when that’s rarely the case.

    4) Use words like “in the shadow of these industrial behemoths” when it’s clear that a machine set back 500 meters wouldn’t cast a shadow on a house.

    5) Take someone’s words out of context.

    My post was about not accepting NIMBYism for concerns that are beyond health, safety and environment. I encourage the government to create clear setback guidelines, whatever they may be, as long as they’re sensitive to various scenarios.

    Would I like having a wind turbine located 200 metres from my property line? I’d welcome it, and I’d certainly welcome it more than having a coal or natural gas plant five kilometres down wind.

  6. It’s interesting to see some of the responses that try so hard to find fault with wind projects while completely ignoring the current environmental and health impacts of fossil fuel plants.

    Wind power bad because:

    – health impacts due to low frequency noise
    – kill birds
    – lower property values
    – intermittent generation
    – eyesore

    While ignoring the very real problems with coal and nuclear plants:

    – carbon emissions
    – health problems from the pollution, such as mercury emissions
    – high level waste which still has no acceptable means of disposal
    – non-renewable

    It seems that the problems arising from one of the above energy sources can be easily tolerated and managed by proper siting. As for the other source, that seems a lot less likely.

    If you can imagine the status-quo being wind power and along comes coal and nuclear power, don’t you think that the naysayers would have a much more solid basis to argue from?

    Nothing wrong with having wind turbines near where you live, unless of course you don’t use electricity. In which case feel free to complain.

  7. There’s a point I think everyone may have missed concerning wind turbines.
    They Are Already Obsolete.
    A company called Nanosolar in California has already announced “grid parity”, which means solar power can now deliver electricy at a cost comparible to burning oil or hydro generation. The reason your local big box store isn’t selling Nanosolar’s product is that all the current production is staying in California or going to Germany.
    Eventually Nanosolar will license the technology or someone will steal it, or it will otherwise be mass marketed. Should anyone think this is pie in the sky stuff, one of the major investors in Nanosolar are the stupid people at a little company called Google.
    What this means of course is that in a decade or so every house built will probably have a solar array on it’s roof.
    A decade after that the ugly windmills we are building now will come to the end of their somewhat useful life.
    At that point the debate in the Star will be over who pays to tear them down.

  8. Sadly, this debate (as we can see from some of the comments) has been hijacked by extremists on both sides. Witness Lynn, above, taking quickly to “reductio ad hitlerum”–the tactics of wind opponents are well understood.

    But the proponent side has its own nutcases. I myself have been accused (in the blogosphere) of being a “climate criminal” for pointing out that there are, in fact, *some* drawbacks to turbines, and that *some* places are unsuitable for them. The fact that skyscapers and family pets kill hundreds of thousands of bird annually does not negate the fact the turbines do too. And the common “footprint” calculations for wind farms doesn’t take into the sometimes large amount of access roads needed for maintenance. And, in my opinion, *sometimes* the scenic value of a location overrides its value as a wind resource.

    Of course, I’m a huge proponent of wind power. Acknowledging drawbacks is what is called “nuance”, “objectivity” and “responsibility”. Unfortunately, some people simply can’t see it that way.

    One of the problems is that the term NIMBY is a terribly misleading. After all, Lynn, David and Stephen J, need to be reminded that the turbines are actually NOT in your backyard. The sites in question are NOT YOUR PROPERTY. They’re on somebody elses property, or the community’s. To borrow an analogy, it’s the NIMBYs who are in fact acting as little “fascists”, trying to dictate what occurs on other people’s land.

    But of course I’m being facetious. The fact that we perform environmental assessments, that we encourage public participation, that we consider third party impacts is a wonderful aspect of our society. Balancing the rights of property owners with the interests of their neighbours and the common good is a very difficult task. It’s called negotiation. It’s frustrating but necessary. The solutions are never perfect, but following well-founded procedure is our best (and only) shot at achieving optimal outcomes. Finding balance is the only way to avoid “dictatorship”, whether its central planners or private individuals who are doing the dictating.

    Bringing this full circle, I agree with Tyler 100%. Setting clear, robust guidelines for turbine placement is the way forward. The choice is not between “turbines everywhere” and “turbines nowhere”, but “turbines where appropriate”, and having a neogtiated set of standards is necessary for determining what “appropriate” means. It won’t be the perfect solution; it will the best one.

  9. Tyler is bang on here. For having studied the Ontario wind power situation in a fair bit of depth, it is evident that there was a growing problem with NIMBYism that needed to be addressed.

    Take the various health claims, a favorite of Ontario NIMBYers. Wind power has been a reality of people’s backyards in Denmark and Germany for several years now, providing large sample populations for scientific studies. However, no one has yet managed to publish peer-reviewed work on the health impacts that are often invoked to deny wind developers permits at the municipal level in this province (and I challenge anyone out there to produce such a study if there is one). The reality of the wind ‘debate’ in Ontario is that groups such as Wind Concerns Ontario ( often rely on spurious claims to build their cases, and that is unfortunate.

    I don’t think anyone is talking about centralizing all decision-making on this issue, and I certainly would not claim that all concerns surrounding wind are worthless. However, given extensive experience in other nations, it is possible to design a permitting framework that is fact-based and relies on international best-practice. Will this remove people’s rights to protest what they view as unacceptable development? Not at all. What it will do is ensure that all the useless noise around this issue is removed so that the debate can finally occur in a rational, informed way.

  10. Can someone please get the facts on:

    Noise levels of wind turbines compared to other commonly accepted noise (i.e. traffic, airplanes, etc)
    Birds killed – if you’ve ever observed turbines even on the windiest days, they don’t turn that fast. I don’t think birds are that stupid, but I’d liked to be proven wrong.
    Any studies on either of these?

    As for setbacks, what started some of this debate are the tests for turbines in Lake Ontario. The location would be about 2 kilometres from shore. Is that far enough?

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