One of the most prominent arguments against expanded oil and natural gas drilling and major infrastructure projects like Keystone XL is that the United States should for environmental reasons focus on production of energy from renewables rather than sustain the use of oil and natural gas. But the reality is that local community activists just as frequently organize against wind projects as fossil fuel development.
For example, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, successfully postponed the implementation of the Cape Wind project for over a decade. The activist community group argued that the Cape Wind project may not only harm real estate values and scenic views, but may also drastically increase the price of electricity in the region. The group got important political voices to weigh in including the late Senator Edward Kennedy and presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney. Senator John Kerry originally opposed Cape Wind but now supports the project and has pushed for a federal loan guarantee to help finance it.
Recently, scholars from Utah State University School of Business studied successful strategies undertaken by wind developers in Utah and their paper is a must-read for those trying to build energy facilities. We all know that we cannot have energy supplies unless facilities are built near someone’s backyard but how do we manage public NIMBY concerns and our need for energy at the same time? Dr. Edwin Stafford and Dr. Cathy Hartman offer some answers. In their recent paper, Dr. Strafford and Dr. Hartman carefully delineate possible responses to a variety of citizen uprising movements, using the Spanish Fork City wind farm in central Utah as a case study for the effectiveness of these responses. As the paper notes, Tracy Livingston, the developer of the Spanish Fork City wind farm, used a combination of open dialogues, key concessions, and local social movements to finally garner enough support to implement the turbines.
Like the Cape Wind opposition, the Spanish Fork City opposition was largely concerned with the visibility of the turbines themselves. In response to this, Livingston decided to move the turbines to the site that he initially requested, one that was far away from any residential neighborhoods but initially said to be too close to the city’s water collection facilities. This action exemplifies two of the recommended responses to citizen uprisings: the ability to “follow-up on initial rejections” as well as the need to “expect compromise.” Moreover, the paper cites Livingston’s identification of school officials as a necessary ally to turbine support as an example of the need to “build social movements,” which help to unify the pro-turbine movements against unified opposition. Thus, despite numerous setbacks, Livingston was finally able to begin construction on his plant, which now produces an estimated 55 million kilowatt-hours every year. And, although the Spanish Fork City wind project isn’t nearly as controversial as the Cape Wind project, the same responses recommended by Dr. Strafford and Dr. Hartman could work for any wind farm that has a substantial local opposition movement. Moreover, in light of the recent trend of increased local opposition successfully preventing the implementation of renewable energy projects, not to mention opposition to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, it will most likely become necessary to use the techniques suggested to garner local support.
This post was written by Lavanya Sunder, who worked as an at the Baker Institute Energy Forum and is now a senior at Lamar High School in Houston, Texas.