Tuesday, 6 January 2009


The path to renewable energy use is steadily catching on. As people slowly begin to realize that we can't just keep burning fossil fuels indefinitely, the obvious alternative becomes utilizing energy available from nature.

But this is where Not-In-My-Backyard thinking, or NIMBY'ism, becomes a source of protest from dumb people.

The best example of this is for wind turbines. Certain people do not like the idea of having large wind turbines located near to where they live, even if they are small dots in the distance. They fear that it will lower property value, or kill birds, to name a few of the main concerns. Now, there is a degree of truth to this, but what is usually missing is one major thing.


What is perspective? Perspective is seeing the big picture. Seeing what the major factors are, and what we're doing now in comparison. There is currently:

High levels of pollution from coal-fired and other fossil fuel power plants.

Hazardous high-level waste from nuclear power plants.

On the other hand let's consider wind turbines.

Do birds get killed by wind turbines? Unfortunately yes. But it's something like 1-2 birds per year for each large turbine. If all the United States generated all of its electricity from wind turbines the resulting annual bird deaths would be around one to two million. A lot yes, but...

Vehicles, cats, transmission lines, and especially windows, kill (in combination) hundreds of millions of birds a year in the U.S.

Wind turbine fatalities would be much less than one percent of this.

But vehicles, cats, transmission lines, and windows form part of an established structure which dumb people don't question.

However, dumb people want electricity but at the same time would hate the idea of breathing polluted air or dealing with hazardous waste. But wait, that’s already happening… So let me rephrase, they want electricity but they don’t want “eyesores” like wind turbines dotting the landscape. Um... sure... that’s much worse.

And what about property value and the threat of it decreasing? This is only a problem if you plan on selling to dummies.

The other bit of fodder used in fueling NIMBY'ism is the intermittency factor. It is said by some (i.e. those in the coal and nuclear industry) that wind turbines only operate when the wind is blowing and so they are unreliable. The first part is obviously true. They only produce power in the presence of wind. But, if you network different wind farms together the intermittency reduces due to the statistical fact that the wind is always blowing somewhere.

Besides, any intermittency problem can be solved by the use of fossil fuel power plants (especially peaker plants), which can quickly come online when the power from renewables falls short, and go offline when the power returns. These plants are currently in place and are being used to deliver peak power when required, such as in the summer when people are cranking their A/C. Peaker plants can easily switch their function to that of supplying backup power when energy from renewables temporarily falls short.

It's a really simple concept that anyone (and I do mean anyone) can understand: Any power that is produced by a clean renewable source means less power that has to be produced by burning something.


SMUD said...

It's unfortunate but true that most people will dispute things because others do, not because of a conscious decision to. After all, if there were any consciousness at all, the positives and negatives would be weighed, and a campaign to "Do the right thing" instead of "Don't do the wrong thing" would prevail.

Anonymous said...

Partially agree, SMUD.

However, positives and negatives cannot be determined, much less weighed objectively, in a macro environment. Therefore, there can be no 'do the right thing.'

There can only be 'do what we can agree on is the right thing.'