How to deal with people that don't like wind turbines

Even Buddhists have an issue with renewable energy. In 2016, the committee in charge of a Buddhist temple in southern Ontario came into direct conflict with a nearby wind farm that was under construction. The committee and other residents in the area did not have an issue with renewable energy in principle. They just felt that having the turbines so close would have a negative effect on them. The Buddhists thought the turbines would hurt the pristine views in southern Ontario. While Buddhists normally preach the value of detachment from the world, in this situation they felt differently. They thought the wind farm should be built, but simply not in their backyard

Fighting climate change with renewable energy is a proposition that receives almost unanimous support. The use of renewable energy is something that receives support from even oil companies; for example, Shell Oil has invested millions in renewables.  Personally, I believe that even climate change deniers, if presented in the right way, would support renewable energy. The big obstacle for renewable energy has always been the attitudes around renewable energy itself: how much should they be subsidized, what should the regulations be, and finally where should we locate renewable energy projects.

Not In My Backyardism (NIMBY) is an issue that affects not only renewable energy projects, but any development project that affects voting residents. As with the case of the Buddhist temple, residents might not have an issue with the project itself. In some ways, I can even relate to NIMBYism. For example, I wouldn’t want to live near a slaughterhouse. But NIMBYism in most cases is unwarranted and, while residents usually prefer to see a project just move somewhere else, it can usually lead to its outright cancellation.

Wind energy projects have long been victims of NIMBYism. I don’t have a background in art, but the turbines have always looked fine to me. On the other hand, right wing politicians like Donald Trump and Doug Ford have long had an issue with wind farm projects and there is an entire wing of the internet dedicated to stopping these projects for various reasons.

One thing that I have learned in following politics is that a few people willing to fight for something can always defeat a ton of indifferent people. Renewable energy advocates should be wary of even the smallest opposition to their projects because a small organized group can have a devastating effect on a project, especially on the municipal level. So I want to propose two possible solutions for future possible wind projects to actually overcome NIMBYism.

Shift attitudes around Wind Energy consumption and production

pickering wind.jpg

One of the biggest problems in our society is that we are divorced from where we actually get our energy. Currently homeowners and businesses expect that they can get electricity that is cheap and on demand. Most people are conscious of clean energy but really don't ask any questions when they turn on the lights. A glaring example of this is in British Columbia. While the NDP government of British Columbia has fought furiously to block the construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, British Columbia continues to be one of the largest producers of coal in the world. It seems a little hypocritical and, if more voters knew, it would probably change.

While people might adamantly oppose renewable energy, when faced with the alternatives, people might change their mind. I'm sure if that Buddhist temple had to choose between wind turbines and a coal burning plant they would have an entirely different opinion. For example, while most Canadians are indifferent to nuclear energy, the residents of Pickering Ontario actually have a nuclear power plant in their city and have strong feelings towards it. Renewable energy projects are actually very popular in Pickering since most people would like to see the out of date nuclear reactor in Pickering decommissioned.

One of the most unfortunate parts of NIMBYism in renewable energy is that residents miss out on one of the key benefits of renewable energy. Whenever energy is generated in a power plant for homes, additional energy need to be generated to transmit that energy. If the energy plant is nearby, less energy is needed, but if the energy plant is far away, more energy is required. Renewable energy is an incredible opportunity to reduce energy needs because small renewable energy plants (like nine wind turbines or 30 solar panels) can be placed in numerous locations and close to where the demand for energy is. Microgeneration is a growing field that is making people really excited and it is the natural solution to NIMBYism. Policy makers and renewable energy advocates need to educate people on these kinds of options so that people will want renewable energy nearby instead of being indifferent towards it or worst resentful.

Make initial wind energy projects really small

100% renewable energy has been a goal that many environmentalist and renewable energy advocates strive for and it something that I am also working towards. But we need to ask ourselves how we are going to get there? While some people want to see all of the coal plants and nuclear plants torn down tomorrow, I see value in a more incremental approach.

There is a lot of value in bold revolutionary plans. They get a lot of people talking, and they can generate a lot of support, but they can also generate a lot of opposition. On the other hand, smaller renewable projects while they don’t generate as much media publicity are difficult to say no to.

One notable example of this was the first offshore wind farm in North America, the Deep Water Wind farm off of the coast of Massachusetts, USA. This  project met with massive opposition from right wing politicians and from residents of the iconic Martha's vineyard but the project moved forward anyways. While residents argued that an offshore wind project would harm their pristine view, in fact there were only five turbines.

  It is hard to say NO to something like this. 

It is hard to say NO to something like this. 

Another possible solution is to use smaller turbines. While horizontal wind turbines are the most popular type of wind turbine, vertical wind turbines are growing in popularity. The turbines operate better at lower wind speeds, are more affordable, and best of all are smaller the massive wind projects. A Canadian homeowner that wanted to invest in wind energy would have a hard time building a tall enough turbine in a residential area, but a smaller vertical turbine would be easier to approve.

In the future, there are going to be wind turbines everywhere

Fast forward to 2018, and the wind farms in question have been completed. While the Buddhist Temples are still in there planning phase those three winds farms are generating over 30 megawatts of energy which is enough energy to power about 30,000 homes.

There is no doubt in my mind that renewable energy will dominate the energy market in the future of Canada. Every day, the technology improves and becomes more cost effective. Still it is important to consider the opposition that currently exist to these projects. While NIMBYism seems like an invisible force it is something that can potentially kill a wind energy projects. The two solutions that I proposed, raising good public awareness and starting off small, are obvious tactics but they can be the deciding factor in the use of wind energy.

Matthew Griffin