Image credit: Jeff Kubina, used under Creative Commons license.
Sometimes there is a fine line between the insightful and the just plain obvious. We've said before that community-ownership of wind power can be a great way to reduce NIMBYism and increase support for renewables. We've even seen some towns take matters into their own hands—demanding that developers build extra turbines and sell them to the community. It turns out that the assumption that ownership reduces opposition is true—and dramatically so. In fact, research coming out of Europe suggests that local ownership can make the difference between full-scale acceptance and outright rejection. Energy Self-reliant States reports the not completely sur[rising news that ownership and money can be a cure for NIMBYism. Citing research out of Germany, John Farrell reports that while the media often focuses on the desire to avoid negative health, environmental or quality-of-life impacts, NIMBYism is also often fueled by a notion that outside parties are benefiting from a local resource:
Such opposition is perfectly rational, since investments in renewable energy can be quite lucrative (private developers and their equity partners routinely seek 10% return on investment or higher). And the economic benefits of local ownership far outweigh the economic colonialism of absentee owners profiting from local renewable energy resources.
In a recent study by the ever-methodical Europeans, they found that opponents to new wind and solar power have two key desires: "people want to avoid environmental and personal harm" and they also want to "share in the economic benefits of their local renewable energy resources." It's not that people are made physically ill by new renewable energy projects. Rather, they are sick and tired of seeing the economic benefits of their local wind and sun leaving their community.
Farrell suggests that the feed-in tariffs that are cropping up in many States, and in Europe, are a way for communities to develop their own renewable energy projects and harness their own local resources. (Although the scaling back of feed-in tariffs in the UK has meant that initiatives like this community-owned solar power station may be the last for some time.) Even the relatively modest investments called for under the UK's community wind fund program are, says Farrell, a way to spread the benefits to the communities that must live with these projects.
Of course community ownership won't fix all the potential obstacles for large-scale renewables. But it does create a path for common ground. Besides the obvious financial benefits, there is a simple psychological dynamic at play. After all, who wants outside "solutions" imposed on their community if there is little local benefit?