The NIMBY Coefficient

The final arbiter of the energy mix we end up with will be NIMBY.

chat Posted Sep 27, 2014 by Rezwan | Category : Obstacles Glossary IMBY
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Photo by Dino Reichmuth

NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard” and refers to opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development close to them. 

The NIMBY reflex shows our innate desire for minimal footprints. In an ideal world, consider the whole planet as our collective back yard. If each area’s residents have proportional political power, and all impacts are proportionately weighted, and understood, we can arrive at the maximum minimal net back yard disturbance. 

NIMBY and Renewables

Not limited to oil, coal and nuclear, the NIMBY effect cripples development in renewables as well. In “Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air”, David MacKay presents a run down of the NIMBY objections to renewables and the impact on energy supply. 

Yes, technically, Britain has “huge” renewables. But realistically, I don’t think Britain can live on its own renewables – at
least not the way we currently live. I am partly driven to this conclusion by the chorus of opposition that greets any major renewable energy proposal. People love renewable energy, unless it is bigger than a figleaf. If the British are good at one thing, it’s saying “no.”

Wind farms? “No, they’re ugly noisy things.”
Solar panels on roofs? “No, they would spoil the visual amenity of the street.”
More forestry? “No, it ruins the countryside.”
Waste incineration? “No, I’m worried about health risks, traffic congestion, dust and noise.”
Hydroelectricity?  “Yes, but not big hydro – that harms the environment.”
Offshore wind? “No, I’m more worried about the ugly powerlines coming ashore than I was about a Nazi invasion.”
Wave or geothermal power? “No, far too expensive.”

After all these objections, I fear that the maximum Britain would ever get from renewables would be something like what’s shown in the bottom right of figure 18.7.

Change Regulations, Change People or Change Energy Supply?

Energy developers would like to see NIMBY go away.  (Well, perhaps they would like them to visit their competitors).  They’d like to ease regulations and they’d like people to accept our present energy supplies with all their flaws. 

We see NIMBY as a clear signal that all of our energy supplies need to improve in some significant way. 

One by product of the NIMBY reaction is that it can be leveraged to promote energy research and development.  Innovation in energy is grossly underfunded.  Spend money on research to bring better, less objectionable energy online.  Every NIMBY case is an opportunity to promote energy research.  We should always be striving for excellence and pushing the envelope on the choices we have to offer.

NIMBY Coefficient

As the global climate situation becomes more dire, activists who were traditionally waving the NIMBY banner now find themselves in the position of promoting specific energy plans.  A great example is the 100% Renewables plan from the Solutions Project.  It will be interesting to see how the strategy evolves as 100% renewables folk attempt to wield NIMBY against their competitors, and fend it off from themselves. 

This brings up the question of the “NIMBY Coefficient”.  While it’s true that people are horrified by the thought of nuclear power - fewer nuclear power plants need to be built to deliver said power.  That means there are fewer N’s (neighborhoods) that are directly impacted.  In contrast, renewable energy is more dispersed, hence more neighborhoods are directly affected. Here’s a look at the land use of nuclear, wind and solar (pdf).  Mark Jacobson has tried to argue that for wind, “the footprint is just the pole touching the ground, and “The spacing is something else…people confuse footprint with spacing”.

To clear up the confusion then, NIMBY isn’t concerned with technicalities.  “Footprint” may be different from “spacing” but NIMBY finds it all objectionable.

There must be a way to analyze the costs of NIMBY per unit of energy proposed. NIMBY resistance per TWH by energy source based on land use proposal.

We shall add the NIMBY Coefficient to the features of the “Footprint” in our Cinderella energy project


How would you coach your states through the NIMBY gauntlet? 

Notes & Related:

The US Chamber of Commerce’s Project No Project “assesses the broad range of energy projects that are being stalled, stopped, or outright killed nationwide due to “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) activism”

Wind Projects are not immune to this, and as the projects increase in scale, the NIMBY should likewise increase.  Here are some examples of Wind NIMBY to consider.

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