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Polls: Anti-Wind NIMBYs Are Small Minority

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I've written before about the pseudo-controversy that NIMBYs kick up over wind projects. And it's too bad that the media indulge them. It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease -- and news stories about overzealous anti-turbine activists feed on unfounded fears that wind energy does not have the support it needs to get off the ground.

In fact, the media frenzy over unhappy wind-turbine neighbors is downright irresponsible -- mainly because multiple studies show that wind turbine critics fall squarely in the minority.

Wind turbine critics tend to make general claims that, within their communities, a silent majority opposes wind farms in the area, and this should be reason enough to pull the plug on such projects. But a recent independent poll of 500 residents living within six miles of a proposed wind project by Ecotricity in the UK shows the complete opposite:

The poll, conducted by telephone by research company GfK NOP, found 66 percent of residents in support of the project and just 12 percent against. Ecotricity CEO Dale Vince argues that these results are indicative of other proposed wind power sites, where the loudest voices don't necessarily correspond with the most commonly held views.

This is a strong case of what happens when a silent majority finally gets a chance to speak up. I sincerely hope that more of these concentrated, localized polls are conducted, so we can be certain that their findings ring true in other places, too. But my decade of community organizing around clean energy has confirmed time and again a basic truth: people overwhelmingly favor clean energy projects in their communities, and want to see these projects succeed.

Look no further than a poll of 1,200 urban and rural residents across Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, which measured public opinion on wind energy in residents' backyards. According to one pollster, "An overwhelming percentage -- 80 percent actually of residents of rural areas of the Northwest -- support wind farms being developed within sight of their homes. What's more interesting is that 50 percent strongly -- not just somewhat -- but strongly support this."

The study, a collaboration between the Northwest Health Foundation, a polling firm, and several public radio stations, hit the news at the same time as "nagging opposition to some new wind farms from some neighbors." Perhaps not surprisingly, the numbers of wind project supporters were even higher in urban areas.

Wind energy will be critical to building America's clean energy economy in the long term. In the short term, it represents one of the best options for communities hoping to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels while still meeting electricity demand. Momentum is gathering behind the movement toward clean energy, including wind. It would be foolish to let this motivation fall victim to anti-wind rhetoric and NIMBYs who keep wishing for the old days.

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