Yes In My Backyard

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show last weekend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP confirmed the government would look again at planning reforms to speed up “infrastructure projects” awaiting planning decisions. The intention was to speed up house-building in Green Belt.

Ironically it drew praise from Osborne’s normal nemesis: the renewables industry. Normally the Chancellor’s department has only won damning criticism from across the political spectrum for its support ONLY for the Nuclear, Oil and Gas industries. Hence these proposed planning reforms are likely to turn into one giant man-trap for the Chancellor. Why? Because he wishes to spur economic growth by making it easier to build – and to build anywhere. Of course he has it in mind to spur the construction of urban sprawl. But he may have overlooked that builders like to build all kinds of things. Including wind turbines.

A spokesman for energy trade association RenewableUK said the industry would welcome “anything that speeds up the planning process”, arguing that renewable energy developers and in particular wind farm developers are some of the worst victims of lengthy planning delays. RenewableUK have stats showing that onshore wind farms wait for an average of two years for planning decisions, while offshore wind farms can wait over four years. You probably couldn’t wipe the smirk of their faces. How will George Osborne wiggle out of this one? Most wind farms are stuck in the planning offices of Conservative-controlled councils. Awkward.

This all arose at a time I received a call from a local farmer who has been struggling to get a large wind turbine on his land for two years. He was pleading for help. The opposition to his scheme was loud and vocal (or so he claimed). He wanted my help. So I had a look at it for him. I could find no actual objections in writing on the Council web site so I resorted to the farmer’s own “Statement of Community Involvement”. It produces a pie chart suggesting around 62% of people were against the project. Looking again showed that this was a survey of only 45 people. A similar survey of 15 people showed 8 in favour. A slim majority FOR the project.

Given the vast array of supporting evidence for the farmer’s turbine I couldn’t help but conclude that his case was watertight. The surveys of local people involved so few local people that it told us nothing. It wasn’t for want of trying, but it seemed that most people do not care to comment. Which is the point. So who was noisy minority objecting and why? Without any strong statistical evidence we can only fall back on the last two major surveys of public attitudes that general show 70% or more of the public would support the siting of a wind farm within sight of their homes.

Then there were the three listed generic objections to THIS wind turbine (that had arisen from the farmer’s consultation with the public): 1) that it would spoil the view (fair enough). 2) that it would be noisy (this isn’t true, visit one, the sound of a wind turbine is comparable to a car travelling 30mph at a distance of approximately 100m). 3) There are better alternatives to wind energy. (Errr…. right…)

Point 3 seems odd. How is it relevant? It isn’t even true – but it raises an interesting point. You can have sympathies for points 1 and 2 but extending your argument to suggest we don’t need wind turbines is irrational. We are a modern industrialised nation and support for a range of energy sources is highly prudent. For “sustainable” read: “energy security”. All of which is beside the point, we have legal commitments and a moral duty to decarbonise our electricity generation industry. Doing so will give us the technical edge to fight our way out of this recession.

But all such appeals to reason will cut no ice with the objectors. Clean energy is nice, but “not in my back yard” (as they say). But what of the YIMBY? Seldom do we hear that other point of view: that of the “yes in my back yard” crowd.

For the YIMBY the world looks like this: it is a growing nervousness about the lack of clean energy sources in the British countryside. The YIMBY can drive go for miles & days without spotting a single wind turbine of solar panel. The palms of their hands start to sweat. They are in high-carbon-unsustainable-hell. Then they catch a glimpse of a wind turbine. It supplies immediate relief. But then they think to themselves “What?! Only ONE wind turbine!?” The YIMBY not only wants renewable energy, he or she craves it. If a YIMBY cannot see renewable, clean, energy being harvested right on their own doorstep, then it is an enormous cause for concern. It is a phobia. A fear of unsustainable energy. Call it “carbonpowerphobia”.

The YIMBY feels ill-at-ease in any scenario where clean energy is not explicitly on display. It is like a man in a desert seeking an oasis. He is thirsty. We are all thirsty. We are scared of an environment without solar power and wind turbines. The YIMBY is the next stage of human anthropological evolution. He/she has moved on from being scared of everything and operates with a certain wisdom. Choosing to embrace that which will last. There is no cure for the YIMBY other than the next fix of water at the next oasis.

For a YIMBY it is entirely inconceivable that there are people who wouldn’t want clean energy in their back yard. Certainly this is even more quizzical in an agricultural area. Exactly what do NIMBY’s think will help support our farmers if it is not the new energy mix? What the heck is farming anyway if it is not the harvesting of nature’s bounty? And in the final analysis what would YOU choose? The coal-fire power station? The nuclear power station? The gas well?

So it is time to get real and embrace the YIMBY inside of us all. By the sounds of it Prime Minister David Cameron is a big YIMBY. In the Mail on Sunday he attacked Nimby campaigners for imposing “paralysis” on the UK. He said this:

The nations we’re competing against don’t stand for this kind of paralysis and neither must we. Frankly, I am frustrated by the hoops you have to jump through to get anything done – and I come back to Parliament more determined than ever to cut through the dither that holds this country back.

It remains to be seen whether or not this rhetoric will result in the necessary explosion across the renewable energy sector… Or just a lot of new homes. Homes without gardens where people cannot afford to either heat the home, light it or feed their families. There is more to growing the economy than just quantity. There is quality too.

But what-the-heck, we will live in poverty. But we’ll enjoy the view.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.


Yes In My Backyard — 10 Comments

  1. And as far as running industry on wind power, have a look and see how Germany is getting on…

    “A survey of members of the Association of German Industrial Energy Companies (VIK) revealed that the number of short interruptions to the German electricity grid has grown by 29 percent in the past three years. Over the same time period, the number of service failures has grown 31 percent, and almost half of those failures have led to production stoppages. Damages have ranged between €10,000 and hundreds of thousands of euros, according to company information.”

    …which is why the Germans are building 23 new coal fired power plants. Wind simply doesn’t work.

  2. Neither of Bill Williams’ comments pertain to the specific Planning Application we were referring to. (Of course you can cherry-pick information off the internet to prove any point-of-view you choose. It won’t change anything.) For every such example we can find a dozen technical reports to refute these claims. Grid power buffers and storage are challenges that will be overcome to bring on more renewables. Under current planning guidelines very few people will live close to wind turbines. Flicker effects are considered within the evidence base for all wind turbine applications including the one we were talking about. Hence the “watertight” case we referred to. You cannot generalise a few examples to imply that “wind simply doesn’t work” when all the evidence points to the opposite.

    But, as always, we welcome all on-topic comments. Nice to hear from you Bill. Hope to hear more from you.

  3. That’s true, my comments didn’t pertain to the specific Planning Application you were referring to, but then, neither did ~80% of your article. The majority of your article is about the wider topic of why people object to wind turbines being built around them and the picture you paint is that there are no down sides to wind power and that the people object to them are somehow inferior. You seem that wind turbines are some amazingly efficient method of energy generation that is only being held back by “NIMBYs”, as you call them.

    To simply wave an arm and claim “grid power buffers and storage are challenges that will be overcome to bring on more renewables” seems incredibly naive since this is a huge problem with wind and solar power. You seem to be claiming that we can put up as many turbines and panels as possible and deal with the chaos induced in the national grid later. I’m afraid that is simply impossible, as the article regarding the effects intermittent power from renewables has had on Germany’s industry shows. This isn’t “cherry picking”, the lack of a stable power source is exactly why Germany is building 23 new coal power stations.

    But let’s not stop there. Looking at the Young report into wind power, commissioned by the John Muir Trust ( found:

    1. Average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.

    2. There were 124 separate occasions from November 2008 till December 2010 when total generation from the windfarms metered by National Grid was less than 20MW. (Average capacity over the period was in excess of 1600MW).

    3. The average frequency and duration of a low wind event of 20MW or less between November 2008 and December 2010 was once every 6.38 days for a period of 4.93 hours.

    4. At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.

    The UK’s 3500 turbined produced less than 20% of their output more than half the time! That is ridiculous! You simply cannot consider that a good return for the investment or even an intelligent way to produce energy.

    What’s more, in order to deal with this huge lack of output from that claimed at installation, operators have to have open cycle gas turbine plants on standby to rapidly balance the grid. These are hugely inefficient. So we end up wasting natural gas in order to subsidise the shortfall of wind turbines. In fact, from evidence submitted to Parliament during inquiries into the economics of wind power, due to this inefficient burning of gas, there is no saving in CO2 produced. There is, in fact, a net gain…

    “Since the wind turbines only operate at about 25% of their rated or name-plate capacity* the ‘back-up’ has to supply the remainder, of 75%. Since, as shown above, a gas turbine operating stop/start produces approx. 0.6T/MWh the average is [75% x .6=] 0.45ton per MWh. This is more CO2 [and SO2, Nox etc] than would have been produced by an efficient CCGT working full time; 0.4ton per MWh.”

    Just to recap from the report above, “at each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.”. That’s from 3500 wind turbines.

  4. I’m confused as to why, rather than face the reality I’ve presented above i.e. actual observed output levels from wind turbines, you’re happy to go along with a wind industry-sponsored puff piece in the Telegraph.

    I refer, of course, to your tweet (even more confusingly, as it was not posted here) on 6th September.

    Transition Wycombe ‏@TTWycombe
    One for our mate Bill Williams who believes “wind doesn’t work”: UK wind power predictable enough to keep lights on

  5. Oh lord.

    Transition Wycombe ‏@TTWycombe
    Read our lips “wind farms work”: UK on brink of new wind energy record: #windworks

    The term to look out for here is “average”. A few days of high output doesn’t negate everything I have outlined above i.e. that for most of the time wind produces less than 30% of what it is claimed to, or the intermittent nature of wind and the resulting problems for industry, or the fact that more inefficient gas power stations must be used to take up the slack when the wind drops off.

    You have either entirely failed to understand the points I’ve made, or you simply do not want to consider them because you don’t like the implications. The fact that you won’t debate anyone, preferring to snipe from twitter suggest the latter.

    Just to reiterate, again, the data outlined above; over a two year period the collective wind farms in the UK were producing less than 20% of their rated output for over half that time. Indeed, the average output is 30% of their rated output. If you choose to ignore this, that’s fine. I can’t help your cognitive dissonance, but perhaps you should refrain from smearing others as “NIMBY’s” whilst ignoring the inconvenient data.

  6. Perhaps, if we split the question into two parts, you’ll find it easier to answer?

    Do you think building more wind turbines will….

    a) Solve the inherent problem of them producing power unpredictably intermittently?


    b) remove the need to have inefficient gas turbine plants on standby to balance the grid?

  7. Ah, okay, so actually, you don’t know how many wind turbines we need to build. Simply that we need to “build more”.

    Not a particularly convincing position.

    If being unconvinced by your arguments makes one a “NIMBY”, I think I may be one myself.