The NIMBY War on Green Energy

September 13, 2021

People move out into agriculturally zoned communities, and are surprised to find that they are surrounded by a bunch of farmers.
Moreover, they assume that the farmer’s job is not to grow food, steward the land, or even scratch out a living for their families – but rather, to shut up and act as groundskeepers, maintaining an unchanging backdrop for the newcomer’s imagined pastoral lifestyle.

It’s playing out all across the Midwest, and the fossil fuel industry knows it. And they know that for a minor pittance of organizational effort, they can delay the inevitable transition to clean energy. Every month they delay is billions of dollars in their coffers – so the math makes total sense.

Township meetings where new ordinances for solar and wind facilities are being hashed out have come to look much like those scenes you see of anti-maskers shouting nonsense at school boards. It’s the same template, the same social media tactics, and often as not, the same people.

Above, a profile of a well known anti-clean energy activist, recruited by the (well known to climate scientists) E&E Legal Foundation, a Washington “think tank” lobbying firm funded by fossil fuel interests.

E&E knows that they can recruit not just right wing culture warriors convinced that clean energy is some kind of communist plot, (like Obamacare..) but also, what I would call muddle headed lefties mislead by the overblown tabulations of grifters like Michael Moore.


There’s not a more important economic imperative for the U.S. than the transition to renewable energy. Ominously, anti-development forces — commonly known as NIMBYs — threaten to make this transition much harder. And much of that NIMBY energy is coming from the political left.

Consider the recent blockage of a solar power plant near Las Vegas. The Battle Born Solar Project, set on a rock formation called Mormon Mesa, would have been the nation’s largest. It would have provided a tenth of the state’s generating capacity, enough to power more than 800,000 homes. And since Nevada mostly uses power generated from natural gas, the project would have made a significant dent in greenhouse emissions.

But a coalition of environmental groups and tourism businesses calling themselves “Save Our Mesa” organized to successfully block the project. The businesses argued that the solar plant would hurt activities linked to all-terrain vehicles and skydiving. The environmentalists in the group claimed that it was about land conservation.

This is a pretty massive case of misplaced priorities. Land conservation is well and good, but climate change is bearing down on the U.S. Wildfires in California, heat domes in Portland, hurricanes in Louisiana and New York, droughts in the Great Plains, and flooding on the Mississippi show that nowhere is safe from the effects. It’s imperative that the country — and the world — switch to green energy sources as fast as possible.

In this context, scrapping the nation’s largest solar plant in the name of conservation — and of gas-powered ATVs — is an untenable position. Save Our Mesa reeks of pure, unadulterated NIMBYism. Nor does it seem specific to Mormon Mesa — on its website, the group criticizes solar panels in general, claiming that they lower humidity, create dust issues, etc.

This is sadly typical of a strain of so-called environmentalism that has turned on renewable energy projects. Some activists have been opposingwind turbines for years, claiming they scar the natural beauty of the countryside and kill birds. When the turbines are offshore, groups sometimes oppose them due to unknown but possibly deleterious effects on the ocean. Meanwhile, the Battle Born Solar Project is hardly the first to come under attack from environmentalists — for years, activist groups have opposed to building solar in the desert, in order to protect local animal and plant life.

The electric vehicle revolution, meanwhile, is facing its own sort of pushback from the political left. Warnings that child labor is sometimes employed in overseas cobalt mines have turned some against the technology of lithium-ion batteries.

Concerns over open space, protected species and child labor are legitimate, and companies who deploy green energy technologies should minimize these downsides. But using these issues as an excuse to scuttle the transition to green energy only exacerbates the problems they’re concerned about. Climate change has the potential to devastate the natural habitats of animals and plants all over the world. And it will impoverish countries to the point where child labor becomes commonplace again. The harms from climate change are vastly more terrifying than the objections of even the most earnest NIMBY leftist.

That said, the cynic in me suspects that the complaints about projects like the Battle Born Solar Project are not entirely about the issues they claim to be about. Since the 1970s, Americans have latched on to NIMBYism as a general way of life. Environmental laws provided residents of sleepy suburbs with a powerful tool to block any changes to their sleepy suburbs. Between that and a general trend toward leftist politics in the West, it’s little wonder that any group trying to stop development, whether conservative or liberal, would resort to environmental arguments.

But this is unacceptable. Leaders at the state and national level must step in; just as with housing, only government has the power to overcome the local voters who insist that nothing be built in their backyards.

Fortunately, there are signs of movement in this direction. California, traditionally one of the states most wedded to policy stasis, is showing some encouraging signs of finally getting tough with NIMBYs on zoning for denser development. That approach needs to be applied to renewable energy too, forcing cities to accept solar and wind plants and strongly incentivizing a shift to electric vehicles. As the West burns and the East floods, there’s no time to waste.

12 Responses to “The NIMBY War on Green Energy”

  1. ubrew12 Says:

    “This is a pretty massive case of misplaced priorities. Land conservation is well and good, but climate change is bearing down on the U.S.” I tell people that ‘permanent’ is excess carbon dioxide, while ‘temporary’ is a wind or solar farm. In a century, when we’re all flying our jet packs to and fro powered with nuclear fusion and unobtanium, we can take those wind and solar farms down. But nobody is taking down excess carbon dioxide, not for a thousand years. Meanwhile, these NIMBY ‘environmentalists’ love Nevada so much they’ll love it to death.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Biggest threat to open land is sprawl, which is what you get when farmers are driven out of business. And there is no going back from sprawl.
      I just told an audience the same thing – in the future when we can generate power from fairy dust, all the wind turbines and solar panels can come down and the land will be in no worse, if not a lot better shape.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I moved to Manassas, VA from NJ in 1969. I lived in a “sprawl” are of NJ that had already seen its farmers driven out in favor of subdivisions. The area around Manassas was filled with farms but has now gone the “sprawl” route—–you have drive a good number of miles to find what could be called a farming “region”. There has been little discussion of solar farms, and what has occurred has been fought pretty vigorously by the well-off NIMBYs

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    Mormon Mesa, you can be sure, is dry as a bone and twice as dusty (I used to live in Nevada). If Nevadan’s want to worry about something, perhaps they should worry about where they are going to move when the water runs out.

  3. redskylite Says:

    Considering the extreme urgency of addressing fossil fuelled encouraged climate change, I would expect to see Township meetings discussing how communities can help to lessen the problem, including embracing alternative energy sources, instead of blocking solutions.

    I’m sure the younger elements would be more welcoming of this as a topic for discussion.


    “Governments need to listen to the science and not pathologize young people who feel anxious.”

  4. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    In short, what Peter the Greenman said.
    Longer, sometimes so claimed environmentalists appear to be worse than deniers. Seriously. Wind turbines might kill a rare brand of parrot and ruin the damn view. To Bad. The squawking about building, or raising,a hydro dam which does NOT ruin the environment, just changes it. And saves it. And of course, The unscientific BS, ideology and impossible requirements associated with nukes. Screaming while the world, and it’s ecology fries.

  5. jimbills Says:

    There is a lot of finger pointing at deep greens here, but it looks to me like this project was rejected literally for NIMBY reasons, stressing the ‘not in my backyard’ part as opposed to a ‘save the turtles’ part:

  6. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I read on Save Our Mesa’s website’s In Our Own Words page:
    “We have collected independent studies that prove several issues with large scale solar farms….”

    * It can possibly raise our ambient temperature.
    * It will lower our already low humidity

    I asked them to send me the studies which show this, as it violates my understanding of the physics of energy-capturing solar panels that shade the earth beneath.

    Sunlight hitting the ground reflects some visible light but heats the ground itself (converting to heat radiation). Sunlight hitting the solar panels is optimally converted to energy in the form of electricity which is shunted off to Ozzie and Harriet’s bungalow. How they would get increased air temperature from banks of solar panels is a puzzle to me.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      I believe the theory is that in the absence of panels, a certain amount of sunlight hits the ground and reflects back into space. With panels, this is reduced because the panels absorb the light and become themselves hot.

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