Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

NIMBYitis Alert: Not In My Back Yard!

Most Americans want things to get better in our nation. We want the economy to flourish. We want the government to be solvent. We want affordable, excellent medical care. We want clean energy. We want all of these things . . . but don’t want to have to incur any personal cost or inconvenience to get them. Surely, somebody else has to pay. “Fix it,” we say, “but not in my back yard!” We are suffering from NIMBYitis . . . Not-In-My-Back-Yard-itis.

A recent edition of the New York Times featured a couple of NIMBYitis stories. The first had to do with the federal government and its budget crisis. “Poll Finds Wariness About Cutting Entitlements” reports that “Americans overwhelmingly say that in general they prefer cutting government spending to paying higher taxes, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.” Yet when we are confronted with what cuts in the federal budget entail, we are unwilling to support cuts in anything that impacts us personally. “Fix the budget,” we say, “but don’t take away any of my own entitlements.” Ouch! NIMBYitis alert!

The second NIMBYitis story hits much closer to home, my home, that is, literally. “Lack of Transmission Lines Is Restricting Wind Power” chronicles a debate that is raging where I live, in the Texas Hill Country west of San Antonio. The problem is that massive amounts of electric power is being produced by wind turbines in West Texas. Yet the state’s transmission lines are not currently able to handle the flow of energy produced by the wind. So, the state needs to add unsightly transmission lines, running them through the Hill Country, which is one of the prettiest areas in Texas. As you can imagine, this created quite a stir, with local residents protesting the “uglification” of their land. State regulators recently approved the route for the new transmission lines, running them right along a lengthy section of Interstate 10. As you’d expect, those who live in the area are not happy.


Including me, I might add. I love the Hill Country vistas I see on my way to work. Before too long, my view will be polluted by tall poles and giant wires. Ugh! But I also realize that if I want affordable and plentiful electricity, and if I want the world in which I live to be less polluted, then this is a cost my neighbors and I will have to pay. (The cost of burying power lines, by the way, is prohibitive at this point in time. Affordable burying sounds like a great entrepreneurial opportunity to me. Photo: A stretch of I-10 in the Hill Country that will soon be blighted with power lines.)

Now before you start complaining about Texans and our unwillingness to support green energy, consider this. Texas produces far more electricity by wind power than any other state, by far. In fact, we produce more electricity by wind in a given year than California, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, and New York combined. Texas produces almost three times as much wind-power electricity as the number 2 state, Iowa.

Moreover, you may recall a similar debate in Massachusetts, one of the most ostensibly “pro-green” states. For years, a battle raged over placing a 130-turbine wind farm five miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The residents, including Senator Ted Kennedy, while he was alive, went ballistic. They tried everything to stop the project because it would ruin their view. When, after years of debate, the project was approved last April, residents and environmental groups vowed to fight the project, which will no doubt be in the courts for years to come. As a lover of Cape Cod, I can relate to those who would rather not see distant windmills in the ocean. But I do find it curious that even in such an apparently green-friendly state, people just don’t want solutions in their own back yard.

I expect that we will be utterly inundated by this kind of thinking in the next few years as governments (local, state, and federal) try to find a way out of the financial nightmare in which we find ourselves as a people, not to mention a host of other challenges. Who, I wonder, will lead us to consider sacrifices we all need to make for the sake our nation and the world? Who will challenge us to “ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country”? And our world?   

  • Drewew

    Amen. Sometimes we need to look the other way around, and choose to make the hard – but better choice….
    I am sure we could move this argument to the spiritual in no time!

  • nnmnns

    Good column, good observations.

  • Cunnudda

    If you want “affordable and plentiful electricity” and a pretty landscape, shut down the stupid turbines instead. Wind power has to be subsidized because it is expensive, not cheap. In addition, it is highly variable, which stresses distribution systems AND requires the building of backup conventional power plants to smooth out the electricity production.
    In other words, Mark, your choice of examples is lousy.

  • Dan

    Don’t know whether the example is “lousy” or not…but your point is dead on! Thanks, Mark.

  • nnmnns

    Just try to account for the subsidization of crude oil. Start by costing out all the troops we keep in the Middle East and wars we’ve fought or financed there. And don’t even think of trying to get what we need here; we’re well past peak oil in the US.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Cunnudda: Well, what you seem to have overlooked is that the opposition to wind power, at least where I live, is not based on the issues you raise, but on the aesthetics. So it is a NIMBY issue, even if folks could be making stronger arguments.
    Have you ever been to West Texas? I don’t think you’d make the “variable” argument. More than enough wind out there.
    I’m curious, though, what is your better solution? More oil, gas, and coal burning? Sun power? Nuclear energy? Or . . . ? It’s fine to criticize wind power, and you might or might not be right about it. But do you have something better to offer? I’m all ears. We need all the good ideas we can come up with when it comes to these issues.

  • Cunnudda

    nnmnns: those wars have nothing to do with subsidizing crude. Our enemies still sell us oil (Chavez), and prices for crude would have been higher had we left Saddam alone in Kuwait, or wherever. And we are past peak oil in part because of price, and in part because of NIMBY, i.e. the feds won’t let us look for it.
    Mark: wind is variable, even there. Much less at night, for example.
    Behind your question is a statist assumption that we should be choosing a winner here. I am fine with the best solution the markets (as undistorted as possible) come up with. That will probably be oil/gas/coal in the medium term.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Cunnudda: Wind is also free and plentiful, especially in West Texas. My concern is not just for the short term, but for the well-being of my grandchildren (if I should be blessed to have them). I’d like them to live in a world that wasn’t a mess because I was caught up in self-interest and short-term thinking. Individuals and governments, it seems to me, are far too willing these days to make our grandchildren pay the bills for our pleasure and convenience.

  • Cunnudda

    The wind is free, but the turbines and wires are not.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Cunnudda: Precisely. That’s why we need to support the building of turbines and the installing of wires so we can take advantage of the free wind. I assume you think it’s okay to transport oil on publicly funded roads. Yes? Don’t you think we need to develop all sorts of energy sources, so we’ll have enough both for now and for the future?

  • Cunnudda

    Again, I only want to develop the ones that are currently economical. Germany, Denmark, and especially Spain have “invested” huge sums in wind and solar. An analysis in Spain calculated that 2 jobs were lost for every one created in the “green” sector (so-called opportunity cost).
    As for the roads, they have all sorts of uses, and would be needed even if there were no oil. Similarly, if the high-voltage lines are needed anyway, then they should be built.

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