Let me start with this up-front. I can’t shake the feeling that the term “NIMBY” comes off as somehow derogatory. That is not what I intend to convey when I use the term. For the uninitiated, NIMBY is short for “not in my backyard” and describes local activists who campaign against renewable projects in their communities.
One of the great ironies of Renewable Energy is that the energy and enthusiasm that spurs its development is the same energy and enthusiasm that ultimately shuts many projects down. It tends to go something like this:
1.) Coal and natural gas plants impact the environment.
2.) Environmentalists call for renewable projects that rely on wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, hydro, etc.
3.) Renewable projects impact the surrounding ecosystems, though far less than coal or natural gas.
4.) Environmentalists object to the impact on the local environment, and call for greater regulation of the renewable projects.
5.) The cost to develop the project increases and may no longer be competitive with coal or natural gas.
6.) We stick with the coal and gas plants that we started with.
Let there be no doubt, this NIMBY resistance is the single greatest impediment to the future of renewable energy in the United States. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, recent studies have shown that wind farms in the United States face just as much local opposition as coal plants. The “Project No Project” iniative put together by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has compiled a list of energy projects (traditional and renewable) that have been stalled, stopped, or outright killed nationwide due to NIMBY activism or permitting delays. Of the over 700 challenged projects that that the database tracks, 351 are renewable energy projects.
There are some legitimate concerns with renewable projects, but the real heart of this conflict is simple…FEAR. Fear of the unknown impacts of new technologies on the ecosystems of our homes. Fear of the potential intrusion of noise or shadows in our daily lives. Fear of unnatural objects on the horizon when we look out our windows.
This is the issue that we face. The human brain is an amazing thing. It will come up with an infinite number of obstacles to prevent us from facing our fears and trying something new. But, when properly focused, it also has an amazing capacity to come up with innovative and insightful solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
So, the question is…what are we going to do to solve the NIMBY dilemma? I have a few ideas, but first I want to send out this digital-age call to action. The NIMBY movement is effective because it is well-connected, motivated and energetic. Let’s use that model. What can you and I do as members of our community, voters, professionals in this industry, or simply as human beings to help address and remove the fear of NIMBY activists?
Feel free to email your thoughts and suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or discuss your ideas in the comments section of this post. I’ll also set up a hashtag on twitter (#NIMBYplan) if you would like to post your thoughts there. I’ll track our collective ideas and insights and give you all the results in an upcoming post.