Rethinking NIMBY: Why Wind Power Could Lead To New Ways of Defining (and Dealing With) Public Naysaying


True story: A small college in the Midwest wanted to put up a wind turbine on their campus. The school, being on top of a hill in the middle of the prairie, had enough wind to produce upwards of 3/4 of their needed electricity, so the project made good sense. But when it came time to talk to the people living nearby, the school ran into some opposition. In particular, from a farmer who thought the noise and appearance of the wind turbine would lower property values.

The punchline: He was a pig farmer.*

The point here is not that irony is funny. (Although, it totally is.) Instead, this is about the cultural role that farmer represents. NIMBY--Not In My Backyard--is traditionally defined as what happens when people are, generally, in favor of something, but don't want the necessary infrastructure built anywhere they can see it. Bacon is delicious, but you don't want to live next door to a pig farm. Sustainable energy is great, but you don't want a wind turbine mucking up your views.

It's really easy to write off any opposition that gets labeled as NIMBY. After all, infrastructure has to be built somewhere, and everywhere is somebody's backyard. Therefore, NIMBYists are selfish twits who can't see beyond their own nose. But the truth, as per usual, is more complicated. Thanks to wind power projects, and the supposedly NIMBY reactions against them, political and social scientists are learning what we really talk about when we talk about NIMBY. Their discoveries could have wide-reaching implications, both for how we understand public opposition to infrastructure projects--and for how we respond to it and get what needs to be built built.

Note for city dwellers and others who don't get the joke: Large pig farms are generally smelly, considered unattractive, and tend to lower property values.

Real quick: I'm not planning on dealing much here with the arguments for and against wind, or with how wind power compares to coal, other renewables, or the magical electricity elves that live in our walls. That's a whole other post, to be written in the future. Whatever you think about that topic, you'll probably agree that we still have to build energy infrastructure of some sort, which means NIMBY matters.

Wind power is important here mostly because it's the reason researchers are rethinking NIMBY. See, there's a weird disparity with wind. In a traditional NIMBY situation, you'd expect to see nationwide polls that show high support for wind power, with support dropping off only in communities where a wind turbine might be built. But that's not what the researchers are finding.

Instead, the popularity plummet happens when you compare nationwide public opinion polls with nationwide academic surveys. And, at the local level, opinions aren't much different than the nationwide academic survey results.

What's going on? Partly, it has to do with the difference between the way pollsters ask questions, and the way academics do that same job. Eric Smith is a professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He told me that polls tend to offer broad questions that result in top-of-the-head responses. You don't have to have a fully formed opinion on something to answer a public opinion poll. In fact, Smith argues, most people don't. Academic surveys, on the other hand, get more into the nitty gritty, asking questions about potential downsides of a project that people might not have thought about before. If you'd been laboring under the impression that wind power had no downsides, an academic survey might force you to reexamine your position in ways that a poll wouldn't. In these kind of surveys, the majority of Americans still favor wind projects, Smith said, but that majority is smaller.

Once you're looking at the nuanced opinions, he said, there's not much difference between local and national viewpoints. In fact, protests often characterized as NIMBY are, instead, really national activism drawn to a specific place because that's where stuff is going down.

"It seems local," he said. "But it's not really. Or, at least, it's not specifically local."

In other words, what we call NIMBY is less about what people do or don't want in their backyards, and more about people in and out of the community using the backyard as a flashpoint for national opposition. If you're in favor of wind, you're likely to be in favor of it in your community. If you oppose wind, you'll oppose it in your community. But the specific location of the wind turbines isn't really a huge factor in your decisions.

I think NIMBY is something that's used to persuade people to ignore opposition as selfish, irrational. I think it's a fairly powerful political argument. But I don't think it's true," Smith said.

Frankly, if Smith is right, NIMBY might not even be that great of a political argument, because it forces you to fight an expensive and time-consuming battle that isn't really necessary. If you write off the NIMBYists, you have to shout them down. If you accept that "NIMBY" is something more honest and more nationally applicable, then you can deal with it in other, more productive, ways.

Take Denmark. I spoke with Jan Hylleberg, CEO of the Danish Wind Industry Association. In his country, he said, developers don't go into a community assuming support and writing off any opposition as NIMBY.

We respect the issues much better than years back," he says. "Before you can put up turbines you have to do a lot of detailed analysis on environmental issues. Most important though is that you need enough time to have a local dialogue about the individual projects. If you don't have time for dialog and debate, then of course you'll have more people being against the project because they haven't had the time to get involved and understand what's going on."

The other big difference in Denmark is local financial incentives. This bit was interesting to me, because I've spoken with researchers here in the states who theorize that smaller wind projects, with local public investment, would get more support because local people would feel ownership of the project. From Denmark's example, that seems to be true. Hylleberg says that if a developer there wants to put up one wind turbine, he or she has to offer the community a 20% stake. If they want to build a whole wind farm, they have to offer a least one full turbine to the community.

The solution to anti-wind power "NIMBY" may simply be expecting opposition, respecting the opponents and dealing with it via proactive communication and community involvement. Or, to be folksy about it, setting out honey for the flies instead of vingar.

Learn more about Eric Smith's research.

Image courtesy Flickr user phault, via CC.


  1. There’s a huge wind power proposal off the coast of Massachusetts, and among the most vocal opponents are the late Walter Kronkite, and several high profile members of the Kennedy family. Their arguements are that it would be an “eyesore” and that it would be a navigation hazard. The I don’t like the look of it and I might run my sailboat into it defense.The way I see it, coal fired plants are far uglier, and if you run your sailboat into something that big, the problem is you, not the obstacle.

  2. So basically, make sure that everybody gets a slice of the profit pie (either through subsidized power or cash money); I’m not sure I understand the point, is this considered a break-through, ’cause that’s pretty much deal-making 101.

    1. It is deal making 101, but for infrastructure and public improvement projects, that’s just not how the United States has operated, historically speaking. It’s been more along the lines of “too bad, it’s happening, deal with it.” As deal making 101 would teach, that’s a sure fire way to get a lot of ill will from people that might otherwise be an ally.

  3. After all the wind turbine porn in the 2008 campaign commercials, I too have found myself attracted to them.

  4. I’d figured that once Ted Kennedy was dead, most of the impediments would go away. I’m not sure what’s preventing wind power any more. There’s another generation of Don Quixotes in positions of authority, I suppose.

  5. I used to live on a little island in the south of Kyushu which had a turbine to serve the small villages energy needs. I always found it an attractive site and a welcoming landmark each time I returned home from work.

    Hard to imagine pink stinky hog farm manure lagoons having that same hometown charm.

  6. Don’t forget about BANANAs, who are even worse than NIMBYs.


  7. @lasttide:
    No, you’re not the only one. I think wind turbines are beautiful. I’d love to have a few dozen of them within view of my back yard.

  8. @sukaton,

    The issue with those sorts of wind turbines is that power from wind is directly proportional to the area of a rotor system perpendicular to the direction of the wind. A three bladed rotor captures power from the entire circle described by its rotor blades. To generate the same amount of power (roughly), those vertical axis turbines would have to be enormous, and mounted on towers as high as the horizontal axis turbines. For the applications they’re advertising, the vertical axis turbines work great. They’re just not the optimal solution for other applications.

  9. Meanwhile, windmills can be found all over Holland where tourists call them “quaint” and “picturesque”. I guess it’s all in the context.

    1. almost nothing built before you were born is considered an “eyesore”. People never talk about how an old dam “destroyed” the local ecosystem (“replaced” is better since the fish in man made lakes seem to love it) but will readily talk about how a new one is doing the same thing. It’s all perspective.

  10. This happened at my (former) small college in the midwest. But it wasn’t just about the wind turbine. The college community had tried to restrict large pig farms from being built close to them, and also opposed a cell tower (on trumped-up radiation fears, but that’s a different story). The non-college community countered by opposing the wind turbines.

    It was an ultimate “all politics is local” moment, and really drove home for me that there is always more to the story than the two-line summary. I’ve often seen NIMBY cases as extensions of pre-existing tensions in the communities in question.

  11. Something about the look of them is so science-fictiony that they just scream “Hi, you’re in the future!”. Great effect, probably heightened by putting them in juxtaposition with something natural or rustic.

    Beautiful and wonderful things, basically.

  12. This is not a NIMBY issue.

    Like any other industrial or large scale project, an environmental impact study that also addresses noise must be considered before the placement of a wind turbine relative to residential areas or where people work. The noise from a wind turbine can be heard and felt day and night.

    Noise pollution is not merely an annoyance or an irritant, it is a public health issue recognized by health organizations including WHO, UN, NIH.

  13. While I don’t have turbines in my backyard I can see a ton of them (around 20 or so) driving around.

    I think they look fantastic, but I’m an aerogeek as well…

  14. Here in Delaware, most people support the idea of wind farming, but the deals the politicians have made are pretty execrable.

    The deal that’s been made is that the state will pay a contractor (Blue Water Windpower originally, but the company’s been changing hands quite a bit) to build offshore wind plants that will be owned by that contractor. Then the state guarantees that local power companies such as DelMarVa Power and Light will be forced to buy a certain amount of electricity at a set minimum price whether they like it or not. The taxpayer will pay for the generators, but will not own them, and will pay for the power they make, plus profit for the owners who take no risks.

    Does any part of that deal sound like capitalism? Or really, anything other than cronyism? That’s what’s got Delawareans peeved – we want the windmills, we hate being played for a bunch of chumps by our own elected officials (too late now though, it’s already been done).

    In a well-managed capitalism the state might offer incentives to the power companies and wind generator vendors who worked together, and/or penalize short-sighted power companies and major polluters. Or, a working socialism might use taxpayer monies to construct taxpayer-owned green energy resources that would be able to outcompete industries less beneficial to society. A functional dictatorship or similar command economy might use a mix of hydro, wind, and biofuels to make a world-class power infrastructure by simply seizing and redistributing the resources currently held by a patchwork of private and public owners, executing or ignoring anyone who complained.

    But what the hell kind of organization pays somebody to build windmills on public property, lets that same somebody own the windmills, and then pays for the electricity? In a capitalism, seed money comes from a venture source such as a bank or rich man, not from taxpayers, and the state charges rent and taxes on the property. The owner makes back the nut by charging the customers. In a socialism, the society owns the source of power because they paid for it and it’s on public property. In a pragmatic non-ideological state, if capitalism won’t do the job because costs of pollution have been externalized, a socialist solution is second best choice.

    Delaware’s got a world-class engineering college and a highly educated population, as well as plenty of out-of-work laborers. We shouldn’t have had to give away the farm to get our apple cider.

  15. The pig farmer was hiding his true objection: he’s worried that the wind power will cut into his profits once all the oil runs out and we have to get our energy from pig poop a-la “Beyond Thunderdome.”

  16. I’m completely behind sustainable power sources, and you can build one in my backyard anytime, but I do have some concerns about the effect of putting up large numbers of wind turbines on bird (especially migratory birds, who like the same kind of windy corridors that power turbines do) and bat populations. That there is some risk seems obvious, but is it enough to be significant, and is there a way to mitigate it? I really have no idea, but the information I’ve seen on the subject does raise my eyebrows a bit.

    1. The birds and bats have a reasonable chance of dodging turbines. They have no chance of dodging acid rain.

  17. My university campus (Universidade de Aveiro) has put up a proper wind turbine up recently. Portugal has a pretty positive view of the wind turbines, albeit our habit of building them in the middle of protected species habitats seems to irk ecologists.

    Then again, that variant of NIMB thinks building wind turbines in our incredibly deep Atlantic coast is a viable possibility.

    There are also government tax reductions for housing estates willing to upgrade their lands with renewable energy sources, bringing along a market of residential wind generators (whose output you then sell back to the power grid).

    And count me in with agreeing that they are beautiful things – when you drive into Lisbon from the north, they gently pop-up from the hills. It’s somewhat majestic, and just a bit science-fiction come true.

  18. Read that Lynda Barry piece.

    I don’t live next to a wind farm so I can’t sympathize, but maybe she could focus more on her goal of moving them 1,000 feet further away (which IS legitimate, IMO) instead of endlessly repeating that turbines are the devil (which is just childish).

    I used to live right across the road from a rail line that shook the house five or six times a day. It’s the price of our energy, our food, and all our stuff. Deal with it like an adult, but don’t just say it has got to go away, because all the other alternatives are much worse.

  19. re: migratory birds

    I wouldn’t let concerns about migratory birds derail wind turbines. For one thing, there is always going to be a cost. Environmental impact should be measured vs. the equivalent coal power plant, not vs. nothing.

    Second, the effect is actually usually greatly exaggerated. Newer, larger, slower-moving turbines are far less likely to kill birds, and those that are killed are basically statistically insignificant. Saying X hundred birds are killed each year might sound like a lot, but not out of a population of tens of millions, and not compared with other hazards like cars and airplanes. I get the impression that the “migratory bird defense” is basically a cynical attempt to divide (and conquer) the environmentalist movement.

    1. and cute fluffy icanhaz cats, that kill 39m birds a year in the USA, from the :

      “Many citizens would be surprised to
      learn that domestic and feral cats may kill
      hundreds of millions of songbirds and other
      avian species each year. A recent study in
      Wisconsin estimated that in that state alone,
      domestic rural cats kill roughly 39
      million birds annually. ”

    2. Environmental impact isn’t vs coal, it’s vs. other alternatives, like PV etc. As much as I’m reassured by your confidence, and despite your impressions, I’d still like to see some well designed studies done. Before we find ourselves saying “oops” when we discover that the environmental impact was larger than our assumptions (cuz, you know, THAT never happens). Science rules.

      1. Here’s an article outlining wind turbine-related bird deaths as compared with other sources. It’s not a scientific article and it is published by the obviously biased American Wind Energy Association, but it is well-cited to actual studies. A further caveat is that it’s 2003, but that could actually reinforce the point, as turbines built in the last 10 years are actually quite a bit less hazardous to birds than those built earlier.

        1. from your cite

          “Based on current estimates,…commercial wind turbines cause the direct deaths of only 0.01% to 0.02% of all of the birds killed by collisions with man-made structures and activities in the U.S.”


          “While wind currently supplies about 1.2 percent of the United States’ power,…The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reported that wind has the capability to provide 20 percent of our country’s energy needs by the year 2030.”

          Ok, I’m convinced. 20 times current levels is acceptable, all things considered. And I was quite surprised, pleased and impressed to find that wind was supplying that much of the US power supply as of summer 2008. For some reason I was under the impression that turbines only supplied a small fraction of a percent. Go wind.

  20. I think people forget the benefits that animals get. I’m sure African turtles are kept cool by windmill as they migrate through Holland.

  21. Re: Lynda Barry

    Does anyone here have experience with the noise that a wind turbine (or multiples) make? I scanned through that article on her and man, does she sound obsessed. Maybe she has reason, but I’m just curious about another opinion from Boingers. The YouTubes I’ve seen haven’t impressed me much with their noisiness, but maybe they were bad vids.

    Thoughts, Boingers?

  22. If it’s purely aesthetics, couldn’t they add a “vintage windmill” cover to the turbines? I think they look fine as is, but if the general outrage is over appearances, that seems like an easy fix

    1. How would you do that, though? The size and form factor of a modern wind turbine is hugely different than what Don Quixote jousted at, by necessity. You would have to take a distinctly modern thing, and somehow make it seem old-timey. In other words, you’d be steampunking it up, but that’s a lot of brass!

      1. Fair enough, the Quixote style may not be reasonable, but I imagine there are some artists that could creatively come up with a way to “naturalize” the turbine’s look without sacrificing efficiency. I lack that skill set unfortunately, so don’t have an answer off-hand.

  23. Like most others who are posting, I think wind turbines are beautiful. But I checked the website Lynda Barry refers the interviewer to and saw a clip which showed something I’d never seen before and which really does strike me as a wholly legitimate concern for anyone living near a wind turbine field: that of “shadow flicker.” Here’s the site:

    1. Okay, “shadow flicker” is just lazy planning, and the fact someone let this happen is pretty outrageous. The effect shouldn’t last no more than 1 hour, and I’m guessing it’s a 15-minute sort of deal, but this is truly a problem.

      “Naturalizing” a turbine is dangerous – if they aren’t clearly visible, they become flight hazards for both birds and planes.

  24. I agree with wil9000: the attempts to prevent the Cape Wind windfarms from being built off of Cape Cod are pure NIMBYism. Cape Codians are as liberal and environmentally conscious as anyone, but they don’t want green power if it’s going to come at the expense of their property values.

  25. @sukaton: Have you stood near a vertical wind turbine? They’re just as loud as the propeller type, as far as I can tell. They also are much less efficient that propeller types, so you need more of them to get the same amount of energy.

    Doesn’t solve the problem I’m afraid.

  26. I think part of what is missing here is the Not In My Backyard For Your Benefit argument.

    I live in Iowa, and I believe we are now #2 in wind production. This occurred in large part because the state committed the time, laws and money to make it happen. As voters, we were behind this, in large part because of two arguments: long-term cheap electricity for us, and the ability to phase out our 40 year old nuke plant and eventually the coal plants around the state that put mercury in streams and require huge ash ponds.

    However, now that the wind farms are built, the utilities want the new super grid so they can ship that wind power to Chicago, where they can charge more for “green” power. As a result, we are now fighting the construction of two new coal plants, which would require raising our rates to fund . . . even as they are adding hundreds of megawatts of new wind farms every year.

    Chicago is an extremely favorable location for wind power, but proposals to build wind farms in Northern Illinois and even on Lake Michigan are constantly fought.

    So, if the policy system is going to encourage shipping that power around the country–especially to places that fight clean power–leaving us with the wind farms AND having to tolerate new coal plants for our own power (and not providing us the cost or environmental benefits of hosting the wind farms), there is going to be pushback.

    If the people of Chicago (and other urban areas) want green power, they need to step up and employ some conservation and allow the wind production. If not, they can put coal plants in their own back yard to meet their needs, pay the higher costs, and suffer the environmental damage locally.

    If these policies don’t change, we’re likely to see increased resistance to wind power farms even here. No one wants to make the commitment if there is, quite literally, very little benefit to our own back yard. No one has a problem shipping *excess* electricity around, but we feel we ought to see the nuke plants and environmental problems caused by coal plants eliminated first. Otherwise, we’re just a dumping ground for other people’s electricity consumption, and subsidizing their feel-good green electricity on top of that.

  27. at a slight cost in efficiency, if you added an array of sw configurable iris diaphragms along the trailing edge, you could play music on them. out in the desert in arizona where the skies go on forever and there’s stars at night, it would be awesome.

  28. The machines are interesting but the 0dB claim is not possible.

    We all want our TVs and cellphones and washing machines and now electric cars too, but all that electricity has to come from somewhere.

  29. I’d be worried about noise.

    A co-worker’s neighbor put in a small wind turbine last spring. It’s something like this. They’re in a rural-ish area, on about two acres.

    Unfortunately, the neighbor put the turbine as far away from his bedroom as possible and still be on his property, which puts it about 80 feet from my co-worker’s bedroom.

    The noise that tiny little thing puts out is incredible. And unlike a loud clock, it’s not rhythmic enough to go away after a while. It’s always changing pitch and duration and ugh, it is a mess. The wind by them is not very constant in speed, so the propellers are whining up to speed and then holding for a while either humming along or squealing like a banshee (hmhmhmhmhmHMHMHMhmhMHMHMHMHmh or eeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEhmmmmHHHMMMMmmeeeeeEEEEEEEEmmhmmhmhmhmHMMMMhm) then whining back down to nothing. Then some random amount of time later it starts over. My co-worker and his wife are kept up all night when it’s the least bit windy. I thought he was exaggerating until I went out there one night. It bugged the hell out of me and I was over there less than two hours. I can’t imagine that going on all night long.

    And a wall can’t be built because the turbine is 40 feet up in the air, so the wall would have to be 40 feet as well, and that’s pretty cost prohibitive. I suppose they could just build a smaller wall in real close to their house, but again that is kinda costly, and the neighbor is refusing to do anything or chip in.

    The big kicker is that the neighbor is on the road a lot for business and only spends four or five days a month at home. He gets very little benefit from the turbine, it cost $20k+ to purchase and install, and the neighbors are up in arms over it. Does not seem worth it, to me.

    I know the original article is about a much larger turbine. I can only assume that it makes much larger and more annoying noises. Especially if they are building it in the middle of campus, as I assume that their are nearby dorm rooms and study halls and classrooms all full of students who would be annoyed.

  30. Pig farmers are the last people on the planet who should be worried about lowering property values, or should even be given attention whilst posturing and blustering. If the wind blows right, having one in the next county is detrimental to property values, not to mention runoff, heaven help anyone living downstream.

  31. The cape wind project’s problem is not NIMBY, but whether a for-profit company should be given the right to public space and waters. They enrich themselves with public subsidies and lands, and we get some high cost green power? Thanks but no thanks. A publicly owned wind generation system, like those in Denmark, is a much better idea. Otherwise it is socialism for the rich.

    1. @Anonymous #51:

      The cape wind project’s problem is not NIMBY, but whether a for-profit company should be given the right to public space and waters. They enrich themselves with public subsidies and lands, and we get some high cost green power? Thanks but no thanks. A publicly owned wind generation system, like those in Denmark, is a much better idea. Otherwise it is socialism for the rich.

      While those might (might) be laudable reasons for disliking the Cape Wind project, you’re kidding yourself, or kidding me, if you actually believe those are the reasons the opponents are giving.

      Robert Kenedy’s Op-Ed:

      Cape Wind’s proposal involves construction of 130 giant turbines whose windmill arms will reach 417 feet above the water and be visible for up to 26 miles. These turbines are less than six miles from shore and would be seen from Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Hundreds of flashing lights to warn airplanes away from the turbines will steal the stars and nighttime views. The noise of the turbines will be audible onshore. …. There are those who argue that unlike our great Western national parks, Cape Cod is far from pristine, and that Cape Wind’s turbines won’t be a significant blot. I invite these critics to see the pods of humpback, minke, pilot, [lots of purple prose]. …. If Cape Wind were to place its project further offshore [then I’d have no problem with giving public space to private companies]


      On a blustery, gray morning in August, William I. Koch, the billionaire energy mogul, gazes out a window in his Osterville, Mass., home down to the choppy waters of Nantucket Sound … “I go out and sail on the Sound; it’s so beautiful, why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?” … Koch’s stout opposition, of course, is almost a cliché: rich guy, who doesn’t want his views ruined, takes a not-in-my-backyard position against a 130-turbine wind farm whose upper tips would rise 400 feet above the sea.


      The Wampanoag tribes say they want the entire sound placed on the National Register of Historic Places because they say their spiritual greetings of the sun require unobstructed views;


      The project has faced serious opposition from business leaders and politicians, including the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Opponents say the turbines would be an eyesore


      etc. etc. etc.

  32. The fact is, wind turbines are not that great.

    To provide a significant amount of power, you would have to build mind boggling amounts of turbines… that means massive amounts of mining of the raw materials, massive amounts of CO2 produced in the manufacturing process, and building a whole new infrastructure (roads, wires, etc.) to carry the electricity away and allow regular maintainance. Also, once you use up the prime wing locations, you start getting diminishing returns on building more wind farms.

    Building lots of machines has a huge ecological footprint, that most people completely ignore.

  33. I used to live in Tehachapi, CA, site of one of the largest wind farms in North America. Put me down for some turbines — fields of them are really quite pretty.

  34. A large number of goats in Taiwan may have died of exhaustion because of noise from a wind farm.

    I’m sure that when we see wind turbines installed in downtown San Francisco, Chicago and New York, not to mention on the front lawn of the White House and Buckingham Palace, everyone will want to follow suit. Until then, I think you’ll find that most everyone complaining about the NIMBYs would become a NIMBY the instant that their own backyard was seriously proposed.

  35. We have a wind farm that supplies about 10% of our county’s electricity on a ridgeline overlooking the central valley. There was the expected debate about eyesoreage, unexpectedly the source was the local hippie contingent. I find the windmills aesthetically pleasing, and would put one up in my yard if the neighbors wouldn’t mind. There are plans afoot to double the size of the present wind farm. Considering that the central valley used to be one crop agricultural but the market is in decline, I wouldn’t mind using some of that fallow land for moar wind farms. You could still plant underneath them.

  36. I live in a 10 floor apartment complex, on the ground floor, almost directly across from the elevator (about two meters away). The entrance to the middle section of the building, where I live, is a straight six meters away.

    My wife and I work late shifts, getting home around 11:30 pm. We normally go to sleep around 2-4 am and wake up around 9-11 am. We really, really dislike all the noise people make from about 6 am until about 10 am and it’s been worse lately because there has been some major construction on a nearby apartment complex with a jackhammer that starts around 8 am… and the trash chute in the middle section of the building, which is about 4 meters away from our front door, is being completely replaced. Workers have spent a number of mornings ripping concrete and bricks from where they’ve spent the last 30 years and dropping them down the shaft.

    As you can imagine, the noise between 8 am and 10 am at the front of the building, at the elevator, with construction going on, trash pickup, people greeting each other (always loudly) at the doors and elevator and someone knocking early on our door for a signature/package delivery/whatever can be very irritating. However, living with noise is a part of life so neither my wife nor I have ever said anything to anyone about it. They have normal sleeping hours and that’s that.

    We both sleep with headphones on to block out the noise and, occasionally, lose a bit of sleep because we get woken up early. That’s just life and if you don’t like the noise, move out to 80 wooded acres like my parents have done and make damn sure your neighbors are at least a half-mile away. Otherwise you gotta put up with it because we need electricity and, increasingly, it needs to be fairly sustainable like wind energy is and not so darn dirty like coal is. The alternatives are dams, nuclear power or maybe loads of solar panels… but those all have problems, too. Change must happen, though, and dithering over it forever won’t help things.

  37. There are issues with siting both wind and solar plants. I’ve worked with wind developers who were extremely sensitive to local and environmental needs in siting the towers, and really worked hard to minimize the impact. There was still some impact, but they spent a lot of time planning, which was good.

    At the other end of the spectrum are Ivanpah and other huge solar projects in the California desert. Does anyone think that deliberately lining up a huge solar project with the edge of a national monument, or putting it in the unregulated middle of a wilderness area, makes good economic sense? They have to build the roads and the power lines to both solar developments, so it’s not the case that these areas are more accessible. The developers also ignored highly degraded land near roads and power corridors in pursuit of those projects. Yes, it’s a solar example, but the point is that some power developers will deliberately try to cause damage. I honestly don’t understand why, but they will, even with green projects. In the solar cases, members of the environmental community are even doing the work of finding more benign sites for these projects, just to help get them located better.

    Bottom line is the NIMBY situation gets complicated. Sometimes the NIMBYs are right, sometimes they’re wrong, and sometimes, they’re being provoked in an attempt to make them powerless (as with Ivanpah, which is going for federal support under Obama’s energy agenda). It’s always worth looking at people’s motives before categorizing them.

  38. They put five turbines on top of the “Sustainability Institute” at Arizona State. Every day, I drive past these; never have I seen them actually turning, certainly not at a speed high enough to generate any substantial juice. Aside from a few storms during the year, central Arizona gets almost no wind. Putting them there is pure malarkey.

  39. They should build the wind turbines right in front of the pig farms, facing away from the town. Two birds with one stone.

  40. I live about ten miles from 4,000 wind turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass. They’re in the desert by the freeway and don’t bother anybody. We have quite a bit of desert and quite a bit of wind. I doubt that anyone would object to putting another 10,000 turbines there. The problem is when well-meaning politicos suggest putting them in Chino Canyon, which is one of the most scenic areas in Southern California and a major tourist destination. There’s plenty of room for turbines where they won’t disturb anyone. Funnily enough, most people don’t want to live in areas with incessant high winds.

  41. I used to make a part of my income through wind-turbine maintenance.
    I had the contract for routine maintenance and emergency call-out at a site with 4 turbines, the towers for these were about 100ft high, so not the biggest of turbines, but not exactly shrimps either. They are sited on rural farmland, above a reservoir, and the water authority, which commissioned them, uses their power to pump water from several reservoirs over the hill into the next valley. In reality, they feed power into the high voltage national grid, and the water authority’s power bill is credited by the amount they generate.
    The local residents are the occupants of two farms. Both farmers have told me they are not disturbed in any way by noise, and they quite like the surreal sight of these whirling blades above the hill. The only negative comments I’ve heard were not from rural folk near the site, but from townies out for a walk in the countryside who object to anything that doesn’t fit into their imaginary definition of “countryside”. Local villagers seem mostly in favour, though most have no idea of how much power they produce (enough to power the village, easily, on most days).

    Yes, there are days when there is not enough wind to generate power.
    Wind turbines are generally sited only after extensive site analysis shows that they will produce power at a level that will make them cost-effective.
    Anon’s reference to Arizona State may be true, some universities and companies put turbines up for reasons other than power generation.
    But don’t assume that because you pass a turbine that is not turning that it is not a valid producer of energy. There may be times when it’s very busy and you don’t pass.

    As for birds, we (and the farmers) were under orders to report and record any dead birdstrikes…. In ten years, I saw about six dead birds, two were ducks, one a goose. Whereas I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands fly over. The reservoir is a couple of hundred yards away and has migratory populations of several species, they don’t seem particularly prone to flying into blades.

  42. I live in the Netherlands, where, as stated, we have windmills from varying historical value all over the place.

    It’s an old discussing. Rembrandt (a miller’s son himself) hated windmills. To him, they were the heavy industry of the time. Many people complain about windmills because of horizon-pollution, and sound. Both problems have been tackled. Many windmills nowadays are painted in a colour scheme that makes them, well not disappear, but fade away against the horizon.

    So how about the sound? I’s parked my car underneath several windmills on many occasion, and as a rule you can hear the older models, but not the new ones. Let’s face it, every sound you hear is energy wasted in vibration. It’s a top priority for the designer, and not just out of aesthetic values.

    As far as nimby is concerned. Maybe the question is wrong.
    Try this one:
    We’re going to build an energy plant in your back yard. You do not get to work there, or get any other related income from it. Which would you like:
    1. Nuclear power plant
    2. Coal power plant
    3. Wind mill


    1. I’ll take the nuke plant, please.

      It’s safe,
      it’s clean,
      it produces FAR more energy than other green power sources would,
      the cooling towers make an awesome horizon,
      it’ll drive off any paranoid, fearmongering neighbors,
      and if the USA gets into another cold war, we have a dependable source of plutonium.

      I realize you put the option there for us to discard it out of hand (NUKES ARE BAD MKAY), but it really is the best choice overall. Though a windmill wouldn’t be terrible either.

  43. The bigger the wind generator, the slower it turns, and the quieter and more efficient it is.

    Essential wisdom from Hugh Pigott.

  44. My husband and I passed a modern wind turbine in Nova Scotia a couple of years ago…it was so huge (to us) that it was thoroughly surreal. (“No, it’s STILL *really* far away!”)

    One of the coolest things EVER.

  45. There is a massive wind farm near me in Southeastern Wisconsin. I’ve gotten within 100 feet of a mill there, and I could barely hear it. There was a faint hum and a whoosh as a blade-tip would pass. Beats the hell out of the yellow streak in the sky over Lake Michigan from the coal plants.

  46. One of the big objections I’ve heard about the Cape Wind project is the eyesore aspect of the windmills on the horizon. I always figured the alternative was eventually getting enough smog that there was no horizon at all.

    To help alleviate the NIMBY argument, how about some prorated pricing formula? The closer you are to the power plant, the lower your energy rates.

  47. SFedor, wind turbines are beautiful, the bigger the better. They’re like giant abstract flowers. The idea of tarting them up to fit somebody’s idea of “natural” seems, er, offputting.

    What’s “natural”? Painting on fake woodgrain? Sticking artificial branches all over them? Making them look like giant saguaro cactus or palm trees?

    I ask because that’s what’s been happening with wireless relay towers. The person who thought up that disguise must have no sense of natural form. Every time I see one, I can feel my brain momentarily scrambling to ID its branching pattern, shifting gears from “What the hell?” to “¿Araucaria?” to “…Oh. It’s a wireless relay tower.” When they’re made to look more “natural” these towers have all the subtle finesse of horsetail ferns. Here are some examples to contemplate:

    Gallery sites:; Stealth Concealment Solutions, Inc.; and Larson Camouflage.

    The objects in question:

    wireless relay pine tree
    more fake pines
    a really bad fake pine in Santa Fe
    fake palm tree
    fake palm tree closeup
    Another group of palm trees.
    A fake date palm
    Several real Italian cypresses, plus a fake one that looks like a Chia Pet.
    another Chia Pet
    Chia Pet closeup
    unconvincing fake rock
    another shot of the rock
    a fake saguaro
    two fake saguaros
    a fake saguaro that wouldn’t fool a dog

    This are far worse things than wind turbines that look like wind turbines.

  48. @SFedor & @Teresa Nielsen Hayden

    I never understood why people though high voltage electricity pylons were ugly. They look just like the Eiffel tower – allegedly a very romantic sight.


  49. In the next normal down cycle of the capitalistic economy, in which we all live, hidden in its trough is a great depression and the collapse of the American dollar. At this time, NIMBY will get his backside kicked hard. He will wish to Heaven he had Wind Turbines in his neighborhood, so that he could at least light a LED light in his home, and he will find his fossil fuel heaven of today, priced far beyond his ability to generate funds to support. the Asian Fact is upon America today! They will unleash “Population Power” to compensate for aging Asian populations,shortly, and astound the West, sink the dollar to feed their Elders, with a new generation of incredibly educated, very ambitious and energetic veggies and rice fed youth. They will out pay in strong Yuan for the resources of the world, and the near collapsed dollar will no longer command the 80% share of word goods it dies today! NIMBY will be faced with American Capitalists selling his own countries Coal stores to Asia for larger profits! He will never compete with this from mere pig farms, or with civil, municipal powers and will squeal loudly to deaf ears! America is in transition! Beware the new forces around us! They will shape us against our will, and force unlikely situations upon us! The paradigm shifts we face and will face soon are immense, mind bending and far more powerful than even our Military! The convulsion has already begun!

  50. My city sits at the foot of ranges identified as a “primary wind resource” by New Zealand power companies. The first turbines went in at the end of last century, just little things, with a tip-of-blade height of a mere 67m. Quiet as a whisper, too. In 2004 these 48 machines had their number increased to 103.
    They looked pretty neat up there on the ridgeline. Playing Zork as a lad, I developed an appreciation for technological artifacts in the middle of nowhere (long live FCD #3!) so I was in favour of this development.
    In 2005 another 55 turbines, much larger, went in on the other side of the river. Then a third farm got build, 97 tightly clustered little two-bladed things. A fourth was stopped by the courts but a fifth, of still larger turbines, dominating the city skyline, looks set to be approved by the government despite strong articulate opposition. Oh, and the first farm got expanded yet again.
    I’m in favour of wind farms, but I don’t think they should be just spammed across the landscape willy nilly, in their hundreds, irrespective of cumulative appearance, especially when visible for dozens of kilometres in all directions.
    The turbines used to make our ranges a point of interest. Now it looks more like a dog’s breakfast, and it’s only going to get worse.

  51. Ack, I should have added that those trying to preserve the skyline are dismissed as “NIMBYs”, usually by those receiving hefty cheques from power companies for the siting of turbines on their land!

  52. I read a great article in the Wall Street Journal years ago about alternative energies. At the end of the article the reporter interviewed a woman in California that lived on the edge of the canyon. She said she was totally in favor of alternative energy and totally supported it. When the reported commented that the canyon would be a great place for a wind farm and asked if she would support this. She said, no, it would ruin my view.

    To me that summarized very clearly the problems we have trying to do anything with alternative energy.

    I love wind power, and there is a big wind farm about 10 miles from my house. I’ve stood at the base of one of the 350 ft. towers and I can tell you that are not loud and they are not surrounded by dead birds.

    I say BIMBY (Build it in my back yard). It brings jobs, and revenue to the city and county.

    Plus, what’s more ugly, a big wind turbine, a grain silo, a house, a factory, a power plant. I’d take the wind turbine and power the whole county.

  53. I think wind turbines are great, but I also think that the media should do more work to provide both sides of the story, so the general population is more informed. There are two sides to everything, but it seems that a lot of people don’t bother ever investigating anything beyond just the headline in the paper. So when they say “no, we don’t want turbines” are they saying that because they don’t know exactly what they do and how they work, and just basing it on their appearance?

    Living in oil country (Alberta, Canada) I see a lot of the negative effects brought on by doing things the way we’ve always done them. The tar sands, pollution, big companies making big profits and leaving a mess in our beautiful country… things need to change. And if a little noise and some visually unappealing (according to some) wind turbines will help get people thinking differently and making clean energy, then we need to go there… and sooner rather than later.

  54. The survey data are interesting, but if all the authors are saying in their study is locals in an area where something potentially unwelcome is going to be built tend to be more “critical” (NIMBY) than some “nationwide” polling of disinterested people who are not facing a big impact to their “backyards”. well, I have to respond, well duh.

    As a former House speaker once said, “All Politics is Local”. I’ve worked in siting many major projects for over the past 30 years and the best scientific data is not in polling data like the authors have studied, because it doesn’t really address the core issues of what exactly triggers “outrage” and opposition by NIMBYS. It isn’t all projects that uniformly tick people off, it’s particularly ones that present “dread risks” or are “involuntary” risks.

    Involuntary means in the local zoning and permitting regime, where most projects are reviewed, people perceive that a proposal is being “crammed down” their throats and they respond accordingly. A very insightful to this approach can be gained from reading the works of sociologists Peter Sandman and Paul Slovic. See, e.g. P. Slovic, Perception of Risk, Science, Vol. 236 at 280 (1987).

  55. I don’t understand. Maybe it is because I didn’t grow up in a crowded city or near an industrial complex, I have lived in the country all my life. Sure there are occasional man made noises like grain driers for a few weeks in the fall, but nothing like a 24/7 animated industrial skyscraper – or 30 protruding into your view of – well everything. Pig $#!% is part of the natural world, and if it managed properly, there is not a fly problem. But there is something about colonizing the countryside with wind hundreds of massive turbines. It’s just not right. Maybe it’s that the bull$#!% smells so much worse – claiming to cool the planet, replace coal, wean us off foreign oil, price competitive with nuclear and natural gas while guzzling our tax dollars.

    I see why city folks don’t get it, I guess. And I would venture to guess they would say “bring ’em on” to suburbia, too . . . until someone calls their bluff.

    I see why non technical folks don’t get it, too. It’s not like Peter Lang is that hard to read, though. Most folks are just too lazy to recognize and a scam these days – or run it out of town. *sigh*

  56. I agree with every post here: the fact that power-generation can be pulled off in such an aesthetic manor is simply a win-win situation.

    About NIMBYs: On occasional occasion, they have their place, but I mostly think of these dense individuals who have, in the passed few years, bought ugly “luxury” condos in renovated industrial areas of NYC that still have very functioning, and very imposing industries that have been around for sometimes, up to 175 years (such as the LIRR yard in Long Island city) and they have the gall to complain.

    To the pig farmer: I don’t eat pork or bacon, but I would like to see our country wise up what technology we have available. I bet your acreage smells like swine $hit.

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