As Congress debates billions of dollars in new infrastructure investments, advocates are demonstrating the social and economic benefits of building new high-voltage transmission lines, clean power stations and charging stations, repairing aging roads and bridges. But when it comes time to demolish land, will people accept these new projects in their communities?
Local public acceptance is essential to sustain and develop energy infrastructure. Strong opposition can delay project approval and licensing. Sometimes projects can sink completely.
When communities oppose projects, some people are quick to label NIMBY, or something not in my backyard, as a serious and dangerous obstacle. Although there is no official definition of NIMBYism, one frames a traditional interpretation by saying that something is good in the abstract, but not near me or my house.
However, our recent investigation of the opposition did not find much evidence for such NIMBYism. First, when a person generally supports a power infrastructure project, we find no evidence that they oppose the same type of project near their home. Second, opposing energy projects in general is not unreasonable or labor-intensive.
Instead, we find public opposition to energy infrastructure projects very reasonable and understandable. Despite local opposition to some projects, people typically oppose projects when they affect the value of their property or their sense of location, when they are concerned about their environment and when they do not trust the energy company.
The people make a noise
US policy on public energy projects has been in place since the 1970s. Legislation, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and State Equality, provides public participation in decisions about many major projects. For example, utilities that want to build or expand power plants often have to invite and take into account public opinion in order to obtain their licenses.
Environmental laws, such as clean water law, clean air law, and endangered species law, can also affect energy projects. Opponents may be accused of blocking new projects that they believe violate the law.
Individuals and groups often move outside of regular channels to oppose major developments. Recent examples The proposed Kiston XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast, and the North Pass high-voltage transmission line from Canada to South New England, both were eventually canceled.
Opponents have argued that both projects endanger local resources – water supplies in pipelines, and landscape views in the case of transmission lines. They also argue that there are better energy options than the huge Canadian hydropower projects offered by the pipeline.
Why do people oppose energy projects?
When news outlets, project advocates, and other local energy infrastructure advocates point out that NIMBY emotions are the result, the basic assumption is that these residents are rational or selfish.
However, in studies of more than 16,000 people, including many people living near power plants, pipelines and transmission lines, we found no statistical evidence for NIMBYism. In general, people who support energy infrastructure projects are more likely to support certain projects, whether near or far.
Projects such as beach and beach wind turbines, pipelines and waste-to-energy facilities often meet strong environmental opposition. But often that opposition reflects a rational response to how a new infrastructure project is hurting residents’ property values or disrupting their local landscape or their relationship with the community.
Our research shows that people, such as natural gas power plants or oil and natural gas pipelines, are more suitable for fossil fuels than fossil fuels, such as solar or wind farms. This is especially true when people think about these technologies and some local projects.
These perceptions are based on people’s perceptions of the various costs of energy sources and environmental impacts. Simply put – Americans generally accept it as a cheap and clean source of energy.
It is easier to apply these categories to renewable and fossil fuels, as they have different carbon and cost characteristics than delivery systems such as transmission lines or pipelines. We find that on average, people are relatively independent of power lines and pipelines, but this acceptance increases dramatically when the infrastructure is connected to a clean energy project and connected to a fossil fuels.
Our research over 30 years shows that people are opposed to energy projects for a number of reasons, for example, there is a risk that the projects will change their environment, landscape and economy. We also found that people with high levels of confidence in power companies were more likely to support all types of energy projects. Others who are concerned about climate change are generally less supportive of renewable energy projects and less supportive of fossil fuels.
President Joe Biden’s proposal to create a 100% clean energy economy and achieve zero zero carbon emissions, deploy clean energy sources, and improve and expand distribution and storage systems to delay climate change. Some of these projects have provoked local opposition.
In our view, it is important to work with government agencies and energy companies to build trust and open dialogue. The most effective way to deal with dissent is to truly address the concerns of power projects.
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This article was published by The Conversation, a non-profit news outlet dedicated to sharing ideas with academic professionals. Written by Sanya Carle, University of Indiana And David Koniski, University of Indiana.
Sania Carly received funding from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation for related research.
David Konisky received a grant from the Afred P Sloan Foundation for related research.