By Bronwyn Eyre, The Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty recently vowed that NIMBYism — about biofuel plants, solar panel fields and wind turbines — “would not prevail.”
NIMBY is the resurrected acronym for Not In My Back Yard, aka “grouchy neighbourhood opposition to everything.” And accusing someone of NIMBY-ism — about group foster homes, say, or wind turbines — is a handy new way of stifling debate.
According to Randy Grauer, manager of Saskatoon city planning, “We’re not trying to force things on people. It’s about making sure we have the public debate on factual information rather than a decision built on fear, emotion or lack of information.”
Ah yes, if only everyone would stick to the “facts,” there would be no fear or emotion or lack of information. But try that on climate change, the economy, abortion — let alone on how to hang wallpaper — and see how far you get.
The problem with most “facts” is they’re almost always debatable.
Take youth group homes.
In a recent report, the city cites “academic studies” that find property values aren’t affected by youth homes moving into neighbourhoods.
According to councillor Charlie Clark, “The fear over these homes is greater than the reality. People really don’t know they’re there.” They’re a “neighbour like any other,” says Don Meikle at EGADZ . “If you take the emotion out of it, then people are going to look at things with common sense.”
The report did acknowledge youth homes result in an increase in police calls, but most are for “internal matters such as breaking of the house curfew.”
But things got a little more serious than curfew-breaking in Edmonton last year, when two 14-year-old boys, who fled a group home, were charged with the murders of a 68-year-old-man and his wife. According to a very fact-based report, 245 troubled teens not only broke curfew. They simply walked away from the same group home over a five-year period.
Do I understand why people might go NIMBY-ist over the building of such a home in their backyard? Yes. But hey, maybe that’s just my “fear and emotion” talking.
And then there are wind turbines. In Saskatoon, a meteorological tower has been installed at the landfill to measure wind speeds and direction with an eventual view to installing an 80-metre-tall wind turbine at the site.
If approved by the city, other wind turbines could be coming to a neighbourhood near you. But if you protest them — let alone question their broader environmental benefits — expect to be labelled a NIMBY nut.
So, let’s get to the cold, hard facts.
When it comes to turbines, the European experience is instructive.
Flemming Nissen, head of development at the Danish utility Elsam, said in 2004: “Increased development of wind turbines does not reduce CO2 emissions.”
The UK has spent billions of pounds on installing some 2,000 wind turbines — many amid the most beautiful stretches of British countryside — which contribute barely one per cent of all required electricity.
At that rate, the turbine at the landfill might just manage to power the weigh scale — and that’s on a windy day.
More facts: Wind speeds around Britain are continually changing and often provide no power at all — so the electricity being generated represents only between a quarter and a third of their nominal capacity.
Last year, Paul Golby, CEO of the German-owned E.ON electricity company admitted the back-up power needed for most wind turbines would amount to 90 per cent of their capacity — which means more gas- and coal-fired power plants have to be built to guarantee supply.
In Germany, utilities are forced to buy renewable energy at sometimes more than 20 times the cost of conventional power.
And when all’s said and done, the combined output of all the 2,000 turbines in the UK put together is less than that of a single, medium-sized conventional power station.
The Brits, in particular, have tried to fight windfarms — which can lead to mental anguish, even illness, from the endless, thumping sound and perpetual shadows that emanate from them. In fact, the former Labour government met with so much hostility, it repeatedly had to bend planning rules in order to force them through.
Isn’t that always the way?
Memo to the no-NIMBYist crowd: Scratch the “stay calm” and “focus on facts” talk. Because citizens have a right to voice their opposition, whether emotionally or not.