NIMBY or Concerned Citizen?

For the past 25 years, virtually anyone who opposed the construction of some kind of major energy facility—such as an oil or gas storage tank, electrical transmission line, power plant, or wind farm—in their neighborhood has been labeled, often derisively, as a “NIMBY,” an acronym for “not in my back yard.”

The term NIMBY is frequently used to discredit project opponents and to avoid dealing with substantive issues they may raise—it’s an ad hominem attack. Often, the wrong people are labeled as NIMBYs. In my view, people in metropolitan areas who are the principal beneficiaries of energy facilities but who don’t want those facilities built anywhere nearby also deserve the term.

Citizens are naturally concerned about the adverse health, safety, noise, environmental, and ecological effects of energy and other facilities located near their homes, schools, and workplaces, but that concern also extends to projects that may impair scenic, property, and other values they consider important. Federal, state, and local governments have enacted a variety of measures to protect private property rights and to limit adverse impacts extending beyond property lines. But those same governments have also exercised powers of eminent domain to permit construction of facilities that authorities believe have public benefits that should override private property rights.

Most people want energy infrastructure to be as invisible as possible—preferably buried far underground. They insist that the ill effects associated with the facilities should be borne by someone else, very far away, or nowhere at all.

What About Necessary Energy Facilities?

Are some of these facilities necessary and in the national and public interest? Certainly; but that doesn’t diminish the critical questions, including:

  • Where should they be located?
  • Who should bear the adverse effects on environmental, scenic, and property values, and health and safety risks?
  • How should those who are adversely affected be compensated?
  • Should eminent domain laws be changed to give greater protection and/or compensation to those who are adversely affected?
  • How should people in rural areas be protected, particularly if they are not covered by zoning laws or have inadequate political representation?

Alternatives should be evaluated. Perhaps more facilities, such as electric generating plants, should be located near or in the heart of the metropolitan areas they are serving, eliminating the need for long transmission lines with attendant losses of electricity. Many cities have blighted areas that could be restored with properly constructed generating plants. Those plants needn’t be as large as those built at a distance—just large enough to supply a significant amount of electricity demand.

—Glenn Schleede is semiretired after spending more than 35 years dealing with energy related matters in the federal government and private sector. He writes frequently about wind and other energy issues, particularly government policies that have adverse effects on taxpayers and consumers. He is a leading advocate against current wind energy policy.

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