Robert Bryce, King of the NIMBYs

His latest, in the Huffington Post, breaks some new ground, advising Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) to beware of upsetting local citizens who oppose solar power and wind power projects.

It’s fascinating reading, not least because Mr. Bryce, who speaks so approvingly of citizens opposing energy projects, has been a longtime devotee of nuclear power. Perhaps he is just running scared–it’s front-page news around the world that following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany is phasing out nuclear power and intends to rely on offshore wind turbines for a sizable chunk of its electricity. That decision followed massive demonstrations by: citizens opposing (nuclear) energy projects. Obviously, to ally oneself with NIMBYs at a time when infrastructure projects of all types face growing criticism from self-interested local groups is to grasp a double-edged sword.

Or perhaps he is pulling our collective leg. In an opinion article criticizing wind farm and solar energy not too long ago and speaking favorably of nuclear, Mr. Bryce actually cited E.F. Schumacher, who coined the phrase "small is beautiful." One blogger, commenting on the article, astutely noted that Schumacher, a fierce critic of nuclear, called it "an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity."

As for the reality behind Mr. Bryce’s screed, it’s difficult to say how much credence to give it. Certainly there are more groups in more places expressing concern about wind farm (and solar energy) projects than there were a decade ago, but in large part, that is probably because there are so many more wind farm projects. The numbers don’t lie–during the 2000s, wind turbines projects around the world expanded by more than 1,000 percent, from 17,000 megawatts (MW) installed at the end of 2000 to 197,000 at the end of 2010. Clearly, someone out there likes wind power.

Who would that be? Well, according to all the polling we’ve seen, pretty much everyone. Our most recent poll, in the Presidentially pivotal state of Iowa–but also the state that is getting a higher percentage of electricity generation from wind turbines than any other (20 percent)–shows a mere 85 percent of voters having a favorable opinion of wind energy companies, including 62 percent "very favorable." Other polling data, both national and state, tell the same story.

And why would that be? My guess is because most people understand that our society needs energy and would prefer that it come from an energy source like wind power that requires no mining or drilling for fuel, produces no air pollution, water pollution, or hazardous waste, uses virtually no water, revitalizes rural communities, and creates new manufacturing jobs.

By Tom Gray,