“Yes, In My BackYard” (aka YIMBY!)

Are there other examples of communities and nations
that have begun the transition away
from fossil fuels? What does it take to welcome
the turbines and solar farms of the new energy system,
and say, “Yes, In My Backyard.” This is the story
of two communities that at first
look very different. Samso is a small island
off the Danish mainland. West Texas is a vast, dry
expanse in America’s South. What both have
is abundant wind. At times, Samso produces more
electricity than it uses, exporting surplus power
to the Danish mainland. And Texas wind now generates
as much power as the next three
U.S. states combined. Samso and West Texas
both solved the NIMBY,
not in my backyard challenge that has stymied so many
renewable energy projects. It’s not easy, but
with patience, and persistence, and the efforts of the right
people, it can be done. Soren: Okay–
My name is Soren Hermansen, and I am the Director
of the Samso Energy Academy. Samso means, in Danish,
means the Meeting Island– when you make a circle
around all of Denmark, then Samso is right
in the center of the circle. Narrator:
But it wasn’t geography that brought Lykke Friis,
then Denmark’s Minister of Climate and Energy,
here in mid-2011. It was why and how this
community had turned NIMBY into “Yes, in my backyard.” Lykke Friis: Well,
Samso is a pioneering project, in the sense that Samso,
way back, decided that Samso should become
independent of fossil fuels. Narrator:
Before its transformation, people thought of Samso as just
a cute tourist community, busy in summer,
empty and desolate in winter. Now people come here
not just to see the turbines, but to understand
the process that got the community
to welcome wind energy. After a national competition,
Samso was selected by the Danish government
to be a proof of concept for how to transition
from fossil fuels. But it was up to individuals
like Soren Hermansen, with the passion and skills
to effect change, to figure out just how. Soren: So when we won,
the normal reaction from most people was,
“Yeah, you can do this project, that’s OK,
but just leave me out of it.” Narrator:
Samso has a deep attachment to its past and values
its traditional way of life. Soren: But gradually
we won their confidence in establishing easy projects
to understand, and also easy projects
to finance. Because basically it’s all
about, “What’s in it for me?” Because it’s not
convinced idealists or green environmental
hippies who lives here. Narrator:
Soren, a native of the island, convinced some of his neighbors
to become early adopters. They found success,
and spread the word. Jorgen Tranberg
operated a large and profitable herd
of milk cows. After initial reservations,
he invested in a turbine on his own land. When that went well,
Jorgen became part owner of one of the offshore
turbines. Soren:
Farmers, they have to invent new things and be ready
for changes. So when they see a potential,
they look at it, no matter what it is. They look at it, say,
“Could I do this?” And if they see fellow farmers
do the same thing, they are quick
to respond to that. So even being very traditional
and conservative in their heads I think they have this ability
of making moves and do things, because they have this
independency in them. A farmer is a free man–
maybe he owes a lot of money to the bank, but he’s still
a free man in his thinking. Narrator:
It was seeing what was in it for them
and for their community, that won over landowners
in West Texas. And it took one of their own,
a man whose family had deep roots
in Roscoe’s cotton fields, to educate them
about wind farming. Cliff Etheredge: Well, I’m
really a farmer-farmer, you see. I farmed for almost
over 40 years. We’re in– right in the middle
of the Roscoe Wind Farm. And we’ve got
about 780 megawatts of production,
that’s per hour, enough electricity
for about 265,000 average homes. Narrator: Roscoe had no oil
and faced hard times in the early 90’s,
but it did have wind. Cliff:
When this land was acquired there was absolutely
no value to the wind. Fact is, it was
a severe detriment, because of the evaporation
of the moisture. Narrator:
Cliff, like Soren, had to work with his neighbors to get them
ready to accept wind turbines. Cliff: The first thing
farmers want to know is, “Well, how much is it going
to cost me?” It costs them nothing. “What’s it going to hurt?”
Three to five percent of your farmland
is all it’s going to take up. You can do what you want to
with the rest of it. Then it came down to,
“Well, how much money is this going to make me?” Narrator: Cliff did his
research and checked his numbers with wind
experts and the Farm Bureau. Cliff:
Then I was able to go to our Landowners’ Association
and show them, where they had been receiving
35 to 40 dollars an acre, then the landowners
could expect somewhere in the neighborhood
of three times that. Narrator:
In fact, farmers stand to make 10 to 15 thousand dollars
a year, per turbine, just from leasing
the wind rights. Cliff:
There was no guarantees in it from the very beginning,
but sure enough we’ve got, I think, in the neighborhood
of 95 or more percent of our area that accepted
the wind farm. Narrator:
In both Samso and West Texas, individuals saw
economic benefits. But the whole community,
beyond the investors and land-owners,
benefited too. Cliff:
Because of the wind farm, now, and the people working
in the wind industry, now we’ve got jobs available
and opportunities for young people to come back
from college or from technical school
or from whatever. It’s just been a Godsend. Narrator:
For Kim Alexander, superintendent
of the Roscoe school district, that godsend translates
into dollars. Kim Alexander: In 2007,
prior to the wind values coming on our tax roll,
our property values were at about $65 million. And then, that wind
development, they jumped to approximately $400 million,
to $465 million. Narrator:
The school district will get more than $10 million dollars
over a decade. That guaranteed revenue stream
unlocked additional funding. School buildings,
some dating from the 1930’s, could be updated,
and computer labs added. Cliff:
This is an indication to me of what can be done for rural
areas, and will be done, all the way to Canada–
bringing life and prosperity back to these
rural communities that are suffering just
like we have. Narrator:
The same oil shock that got Brazil
started on ethanol, got Denmark started
on manufacturing wind turbines, just in time
to compensate for a decline in its ship-building industry. Lykke:
And it’s also good for the economy,
in terms of export. I mean, 10% of Danish exports
comes from the cleantech area. Narrator: Energy
and environment always require tradeoffs, such as clear vistas
versus clean energy. It’s something
that communities have to make time
to work through. Cliff, for one,
believes it’s worth it. Cliff:
Everything, the schools, the churches,
the civic organizations, all the businesses
will benefit from this. It will increase, hopefully,
our town’s populations, and our economics. Kim Alexander:
My granddad used to say, not realizing
he was prophetic, but “If we could sell the wind,
we’d be wealthy.” Well, who would
have ever thought we’d be able to sell the wind? Narrator:
For Samso, Denmark and Texas, clean energy brought economic
benefits and energy security. But replacing fossil fuel
emissions with wind power has other advantages. Lykke:
And let’s not forget, also good for climate
and health, and such, and that’s a very
important argument. Cliff: We’ve got a constant
wind resource here, that’s tremendously valuable,
and as opposed to oil and gas, it’ll last forever,
and it doesn’t pollute anything.

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Reader Comments

  1. Sorta Awesome

    Many people that are living right next to these wind turbines are getting psychic madness due to the turbine noises. Please also enlighten the 'darker' side of those renewable energy sources!

  2. Gustav Löwgren

    Psychic is right. Actual scientific studies show that that "madness" is psychosomatic (i.e. the sick create it themselves in their head, it is not created by the noise). Just like with people who are "allergic to electricity".

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