Environmentalists: Global Warming Trumps NIMBYism

I am heartened to see a report in Grist To John so many environmental groups taking on Robert Kennedy Jr's NIMBY opposition to wind power off the coast of Cape Cod. RFK Jr has been a prominent attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council and has framed this issue as industry versus natural preservation:

"Some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound ... All of us need periodically to experience wilderness to renew our spirits and reconnect ourselves to the common history of our nation, humanity, and to God."

However, his continued vocal opposition  to the proposed 420 Megawatt wind project has forced a near civil war among environmentalists. However it seems that RFK Jr is being increasingly isolated on this issue as the alarm over global warming forces a long overdue prioritization within the environmental movement.

The best expression of the environmental movement's new tough love attitude was this:

Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, the debate comes down to weighing local NIMBY concerns against global climate concerns. "I respect people who wage NIMBY battles -- the environmental movement was founded on people protecting their local, sacred areas," he said. "But today, solving the climate crisis has become so urgent that it trumps NIMBYism. It's as simple as that."

This is a milestone for the environmental movement. It shows a new maturity to prioritize clean renewable energy production over NIMBY opposition even within their own ranks.

Well, if a wind power installation turns out to be a bad/uneconomical/unecological idea at some later point - it kills too many bats, is too loud and causes cochlear cancer or whatever, or just not worth the money -  it is relatively easy to dismantle, without leaving damage for generations. Certainly less damage remains than in the case of strip mining or nuclear power plants. So I really have relatively little patience with NIMBYism against wind power installations.
This wind farm will provide 3/4 of the electricity for Cape Cod and the islands.  This is a relatively sparsely populated area, and we are going to use up hundreds of square miles of one of the most beautiful places on the east coast to provide power, when a single nuke plant could do the job with an infintesimal fraction of the footprint?  Meanwhile, Massachusetts continues to develop 40 acres of land each day.  By the time the windmills are built their contribution to providing power will be miniscule.  The money would be better spent on a nuke plant.  
We are running out of uranium for the nuclear plants built and in planning. Plants require uranium for around fifty years each. I'd go with windmills unless we found some more uranium. Now that the price has gone up, we might have people looking for more. The new prospect over near Olympic Dam in South Australia might also be a producer. That would be large enough to fuel a dozen plants by itself.
We are NOT running out of uranium!  As these guys explain:


We've barely scratched the surface, literally, of the crustal uranium resource.

The 50 years of reserve figure is actually very high for a metal - a typical number is ten years or about the time it takes to explore, define, and bring to production an ore body.  The economics are, why spend money on exploration when there's a glut on the market?  Uranium had had a volitile market so experienced significant exploration overshoot during the last boom market.

Uranium is still a very new article of commerce - we're just on the toe of extraction.

Also, given its high energy density (about 100,000,000 times that of carbon on a per atom basis), very low concentrations can have a positive EROEI.

And once uranium gets expensive, there is three times as much thorium to be had.

Consider the "value chain" for wind power: how much electricity do they displace, burned with how much fossil fuel, releasing how much greenhouse gas, and what is the net forcing function for those gases.

Overall, in my analysis, wind power is a symbolic gesture and little more.

Of course locals oppose them - they suffer the real discomfort today against highly theoritical, speculative, and tenuous benefits supposedly decades in the future.

The more the environmental movement bullies local people into accepting windmills, the more people will examine the justifications for them. The debate also has served to highlight the hypocracy of the environmentalists and show them as elitists who proscribe remedies for others that they would not accept themselves.

I think most people will, with rational consideration of their costs, find windmills wanting.  The environmental movement will be the political loser.

As to nuclear power plants, regulations require restoration of shutdown sites to "greenfield" conditions.  In any case, a nuclear power plant produces much, much more power over its lifetime per unit area compared to windmills.

I will grant that tearing down windmills is much cheaper.  Are the owners required, like nuclear power plant owners, to establish and fund a trust fund for decommissioning?

Why would you force a de-commissioning of a productive wind farm. Just go out, maintain and replace them as needed. It's not like if they have a major malfunction you could lose an area to radioactivity.
Why not replace a windmill?

How about tax law changes removing tax credits and incentives.  Maybe a change in accounting depreciation schedules?  How about competitive alternatives?

Here in California, we're littered with rusting, inoperable, unproductive windmills.  I saw a photo from New Zealand on this site of the same.

Someone has to pay to remove these eyesores - a rule requiring a decommisioning reserve or bond would be appropriate.

They replace wind turbines all the time, the old turbines yuou see in Altamont pass or outside Palm Springs are all being replaced by new more efficient turbines. To say wind has no future is ludicrous, it could provide the world with a good chunk of it's energy needs.


How about tax law changes removing tax credits and incentives.  Maybe a change in accounting depreciation schedules?  How about competitive alternatives?

What world do you live in? Energy production has been subsidized in one form or another since the beginning of the coal era. And at 4 to 5 cents kwh wind is pretty darn cheap, certainly more so than 10 cent gas.


I think most people will, with rational consideration of their costs, find windmills wanting.  The environmental movement will be the political loser.

Please make your "rational" arguement.

As a professional with 30 years experience in the electric power business, claims of 5 cent/kW-hr for wind power are unrealistic.  The books are rigged to make wind look good.

First, wind is undispatchable - the blows when it wants and if it blows too slow or too fast, no electricity is delivered.  That means that the system has to maintain spinning reserve ready and able to pick up all the wind output - that costs money and wastes other generation assets' fixed costs.

Second, the costs of wind power are hidden from the price through extensive goverment incentives - production credits, accelerated depreciation, tax rebates, premimum price structures.

The refurbishment of windmills had to await the energy bill which restored some of the government subsidies to make the equipment worth maintaining.

Corporate America knows corporate welfare and windmills are just another version.

At best wind is worth the fuel NOT burned in fossil plants less the loss of efficiency from those plants from running at part-load.

Yes, low cost, reliable energy production has been encouraged by smart governments for many years.  Why?  That low cost power has a very high multiplier in the general economy so a wise government does what it can to keep the price down (but not subsidized).  For nuclear power, the initiatl R&D investment has become a huge cash cow for governments at all levels.

I don't think windmills offer any advantages in our energy system, certainly not enough to justify their current popularity with politicians.  There might be a place for 5 to 10% of system capacity for wind but that still might not make it worthwhile.

As a professional with 30 years experience in the electric power business.

Indeed, which means everything you say about how an electricity system can run should be taken with a great deal of salt . Acutally wind is quite reliable, where ever you set up the turbines the wind blows during certain weather patterns, so you could actually depend on generation depending on whatever the weather pattern is. Just like solar, for example in California the differnce between off peak of 28 thousand mw and peak 45 thousand mw is the sun. No sun, no 45 thousand mw peak, so CA today could build 20 thousand mw of PV that would be completely dependable. Of course for an industy which has run the grid the exact same way for 70 years and all its great minds tell you there is no other way, wind and solar are "undispatchable."

But now that you revealed your in the electric business tell me which part of it your in that can speak so haughtily about subsidies, the whole damn industry from generation to wires has been subsidized for seventy years!

Boy, 5 to 10%, those are pretty good energy industry numbers only a wiggle room of 100%. What would the numbers be on an industy that could supply 10% of US generation? Say 30 - 40 billion a year. No one would to invest in that.

I've been around politics for many years and energy for a decade and I've never seen more bullshit anywhere than in the energy world.


You expect our neighbors to entrust their electricity supplies to anyone OTHER than experienced professionals?

Come on down and we'll let you do some 500,000 volt switchgear maintenance BARE HANDED.  Or maybe move some spent nuclear fuel.  How about lighting off a gas-fired boiler - know what you have to do to keep it from blowing up in your face?  Fix a live 2,000 pounds per square inch superheated steam leak?  Meter reading is something you might be able to pick up quickly - you can read an electric meter, can't you?  From 20 feet?  Afraid of dogs?  Not afraid of heights? Want to you climb a power pole?  In an ice storm?

Not the hands-on type?  OK, let's see you raise $3 billion in bonds for new generation.  How about applying for a California Air Resources Board pollution discharge permit?  Buy all the rights-of-way for a new transmission line?  Place some straddles for natural gas purchases next winter?

OK, maybe you're a people person.  How about answering the phones next time we have an earthquake or a hurricane?  Want to negotiate with the boilermakers

Yes, come on down, smartass.  You'll either be dead or under criminal indictment before lunch.  

Unfortunately, you'll probably cause a power outage and we'll get the blame for letting an unexperienced dilettante touch the equipment.

He means he's never seen anyone bullshit as much as the managers of the utility companies, like the ones that fired all the union linemen and then looked surprised when it took so long to get the power turned back on after the "unexpected" weather events.
The engineers generally know more about what they are doing than the directors, but the directors hire the CEO. Now if the engineers hired the CEO...Or the linemen...but that's not going to happen, ever.
Actually, one of the problems of corporate governance for regulated utilities is that the CEO choses the directors and not vice versa.

There is seldom a single investor with enough shares to influence the board or demand outside representation (in most cases and maybe its changing a bit).  Look at the outside directors and they are usually elderly socialite do-gooders.

Organizationally, a traditional electric utility resembles the Communist Party of the USSR - they had their own internal leadership selection processes and a monopoly on power.  They did have to have a foreign policy - ie lobbyists in the state capital.

The one I worked for started downhill when the engineer-CEO retired and they hired this slick San Francisco lawyer to be the new boss.  What a diaster.

Remind me again how much it costs to decommission a nuclear power plant?  How many existing plants have adequate reserves set aside for decommissioning plants?  How much of the balance are taxpayers going to get stuck paying for?
About $3 million a year.

Here's is a detailed breakdown of nuclear costs against an equivalent output of LNG:


The decommisioning trust fund annual charges are chump change.

Glad to straighten you out - no thank yous required.

I have camped on Cape Cod a couple of times, very beautiful place. If you go to the Park Stations and read about the history of the area, you would know that the sand shifts all the time - called roll over or something. A wise man does not built a nuclear power station upon the sands.

If people want to preserve the pristine condition (I didn't see any pristine conditions wider than a couple hundred yards) maybe they should make it an auto free zone. I remember the traffic as busy but not as bad as at the North Carolina beach.

Could it be that people are realizing that the whole world is our back yard, so any GHG or mercury or radioactive waste that we create in electricity generation IS in our back yard?  And maybe they think "spoiling" some vistas in exchange for years of zero-emissions electricity is a good tradeoff?

I also have to chime in here on the specific issue of people not liking the appearance of turbines.  I just don't understand that.  I think they're beautiful and minimalist, and look like kinetic works of art when turning.  I strongly suspect that in years to come people will see both horizontal- and vertical-axis turbines (the latter will pop up on schools, municipal buildings, shopping malls, etc.) as signs of progress and intelligent stewardship, not to mention just plain attractive.

I agree. I'd put a small one up in the field behind my house if I could afford it and if there was enough wind here to make it worthwhile. I think they're elegant.
Hear hear -- I don't think turbines are ugly at all.  People are often totally blind to the much more imposing and intimate ugliness around them already, and only focus on the new item.  Also there's a strong sense of elitism in this, a desire to pretend that other humans don't exist, which is only possible when you have the resources to insulate other people from yourself.  This is not a privilege many people have, and not a privilege that large number of people can ever have.  Solitude, nature, and a beautiful environment are all possible to acquire for many people, but not complete isolation.
It may be time to reconsider the nuclear option as well; another well deserved victim of NIMBYism.  However, in the Dec. 2005 Scientific American, there was a review of the current state of fast neutron reactors.  The article presented the major benefits to be that fast neutron reactors can burn essentially all of the Transuranic elements that are the long-lived bane of nuclear waste displosal.  In the process almost 95% of the potential nuclear energy is recoverd from the fuel as opposed to typical 5% for present light water reactors.  Indeed, as presented, such reactors could be fueled for decades using our existing stockpiles of high level radioactive waste.  The key apparently is new reprocessing technology.  
Off-topic, but here is another article that has me concerned about infrastructure:

A Bridge That Has Nowhere Left to Go

Published: January 17, 2006
The Tappan Zee Bridge, the most critical transportation link across the Hudson River north of New York City, is not even half as old as the Brooklyn Bridge, but its warranty has already expired.

Started on the cheap during the Korean War, the Tappan Zee was deliberately built to last just 50 years. It passed that milestone last month, just days after transportation planners began gathering public advice about how to fix or replace it.


The New York State Thruway Authority, which owns the 3.1-mile-long bridge carrying the Thruway over the Hudson, has said that the deck, some structural steel, the concrete walkway and electrical systems have "deteriorated significantly." The authority plans to spend more than $100 million next year just to patch the bridge's holes and replace some of its corroded steel, a process sure to make travel even slower for commuters.


The bridge, which cost just $81 million - the equivalent of about $550 million today - was built using a naval construction technique that incorporated a set of hollow concrete caissons to support the main span.

Unlike other bridges in the region - The Brooklyn Bridge is 122 years old, and the George Washington Bridge will turn 75 this year - the Tappan Zee was not built to last, because of wartime pressures, according to Ramesh Mehta, the divisional director of the Thruway Authority in charge of the southern Hudson Valley.


Interesting you brought up the bridge.  We just had a bridge collapse recently that had been built using the same construction technique.  It was about the same age.


It is just too ironic that you brought up the Tappan Zee in a NIMBY-related thread. The Bridge takes northbound I-87 across the Hudson at its widest point, when one would have expected the road to hug the East bank of the Hudson for another hundred miles or so, and then cross to the West bank where the Hudson narrows. Why choose such an expensive and irrational seeming route?

Simple. The natural route would have bisected Kikjuit, the baronial Rockefeller family compound in Pocantico Hills. Back in the 1950s, when New York was planning I-87 (aka, the New York State Thruway) a single, powerful family had the power to block that sort of thing. NIMBY, indeed!

There was also the incidents between Robert Moses and the people of Long Island when he started to build the parkway system out there.  The route he chose paid absolutely no attention to property lines at all, except when the road was to go across the land of someone rich and powerful.  For them the road was moved so it didn't really affect their property at all.  The farmers and other small landowners, on the other hand quite often saw the road go up right in the middle of their fields, destroying there farms as a practical place to grow food.

As for the placement of the Tappen Zee Bridge, I agree they probably could have placed it at a narrower point in the river, but if they moved it 100 miles to the north, you're talking about putting the bridge north of the westchester border.  That is really far north, it would make the bridge useless for many people.  If they wanted to get into southern westchester from the middle parts of Rockland county, it would be much easier for them to drive down to the GWB and then up into Westchester through the city, just adding to the already horrible traffic in that area.  The same thing goes for people wanting to travel from New Jersey to Westchester or points further east.