Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared that he would "crush" citizen groups who oppose large-scale renewable energy projects. Well, governor, here's some advice: you'd better pack a lunch.
The global backlash against the energy sprawl that comes with renewable energy projects is growing and it is fierce. Brown's comments, made during a speech at the University of California, Los Angeles, were aimed at citizens who oppose a large solar project in San Luis Obispo. But solar remains a relatively small player in the renewable energy business. (Total solar photovoltaic generation capacity is about 40,000 megawatts. Global wind generation capacity is about 200,000 megawatts.)
The friction can be found by looking at the wind energy sector, which is facing fierce resistance from California to Copenhagen. Indeed, if Brown had bothered to look at last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, he would have read an insightful story by Tiffany Hsu about the residents of Tehachapi, a small town located a few miles southeast of Bakersfield, that is being overrun by wind energy developers.
A local resident, Donna Moran, said that "Once, you could see stars like you wouldn't believe. Now, with the lights from the turbines, you can't even see the night sky." Hsu also addressed the issue of property values, writing that "Each new project causes nearby property values to plunge as much as 40%, city officials say."
Last month, Terra-Gen, a major wind energy developer, halted a 150-turbine wind project in Tehachapi due to what the company said were "several important development concerns, including local opposition."
Ah yes, local opposition. Consider these numbers: the European Platform Against Windfarms now has 485 signatory organizations from 22 European countries. In the UK, where fights are raging against industrial wind projects in Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere, some 250 anti-wind groups have been formed. In Canada, the province of Ontario alone has more than 50 anti-wind groups. The US has about 170 anti-wind groups.
Anti-wind groups are active, particularly in Denmark, a country that is supposed to be paradise for wind energy. On July 22, 2010, the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten reported that there are about 40 anti-wind groups in Denmark and that "more and more neighbors are protesting against new, large wind turbines." It cited the Svendborg city council which recently refused to provide a permit for turbines over 80 meters high, after a local group "protested violently against two wind turbines" that had been erected a few months earlier.
The story continued, saying that "neighbors complain especially about the noise" from the turbines. It then quoted the town deputy mayor as saying that due to "the violent protests and the uncertainty of low-frequency noise" coming from the turbines, the town would "not expose our citizens" to large wind turbines.
Last September, the Copenhagen Post reported that "State-owned energy firm Dong Energy has given up building more wind turbines on Danish land, following protests from residents complaining about the noise the turbines make."
Or consider what's happening in the UK. On May 27, in Wales, the BBC reports that 1,500 protesters descended on the Welsh assembly, the Senedd, demanding that a massive wind project planned for central Wales be halted.
There's enormous opposition to industrial wind here in the US. Last November, five people, several of them from Earth First! were arrested near Lincoln, Maine, after they blocked a road leading to a construction site for a 60-megawatt wind project on Rollins Mountain.
On May 12, the first industrial wind facility proposed for rural Connecticut was rejected by the state's siting council, which said the "visual effects" of the project were "in conflict with the policies of the state." The project had been vigorously opposed by Save Prospect, a group founded by an affable high school teacher named Tim Reilly.
Residents of Falmouth, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod, continue to complain about noise coming from a 1.65 megawatt turbine that was installed in their town. The July 12 issue of the Cape Cod Times quotes Falmouth resident Neil Andersen, who says that at certain times, the turbine "gets jet engine loud... To put it simple, they drive one crazy."
I could easily provide dozens of other examples -- from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and other places -- of opposition to industrial wind projects. Jerry Brown and other promoters of renewables can talk all they like about their desire to crush the citizen groups who are fighting energy sprawl.
That's not going to happen.