Monday, September 13, 2010

Holding Out for NIMBY?

By chance this article from the New York Times showcases, in the context of the development of wind power in Texas, two issues that Doug, Svetlana Pevnitskaya (also at FSU), Sean Collins (now at Fordham University) and I have been studying: the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) problem and the problems arising from assembling large numbers of different parcels of land for industrial development (the "hold out" problem). Wind power is particularly vulnerable to both of these. First, despite the numerous TV commercials showing pretty little girls bouncing through green fields with birds, butterflies, and windmills, industrial windmills are ugly, noisy, irritating to live around (light and shadow flicker), and potentially dangerous to wildlife (although this problem is being mitigated). And, as wind often blows the strongest far from where people live, there are concurrent requirements for long distance transmission lines, which are ugly, scary to some people (although that is apparently overblown) and require a bundle of property rights with no gaps: a situation ripe for hold-out issues.

Texas has become a leader in this area, for a number of logical reasons. There are wide open, relatively empty spaces where you don't have to look at a windmill if you don't want to. And, as the article reminds us, Texans traditionally have been accustomed to accepting the public face of productive activity: pumpjacks, refineries, etc.. But now, the transmission lines raise new problems. It's an interesting case study. As a colleague of ours from the FSU School of Law said last year, "green" industrial facilities are nevertheless industrial facilities. And, as I read someplace on the web, it raises the question as to whether wind and solar energy are really "renewable" energy, because you can't "renew" the land occupied or the vista destoyed. There's no such thing as a free lunch, nor free electricity to make your lunch, either.

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