NIMBY and PROUD! (Massachusetts)

Sep 1, 2010

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—Chad Pepin

My name is Chad Pepin. I live in Webster, Massachusetts. Douglas, a neighboring town, has proposed an 11-turbine, 2.5 Megawatt Wind Farm literally in my back yard.

My 1-acre house lot borders the Douglas town line. If the project comes to fruition, I’ll be faced with a 492-foot turbine less than 1400 feet from my house, with another 4 turbines within 2000 feet. Niether I, nor any of my fellow Webster residents, will receive any benefit from this project. Douglas will receive the TIF tax incentives, but Webster will get nothing. I am not allowed to vote at Douglas’s town meetings.

When this frustration topic comes up in conversation, I get quickly classified as a “NIMBY” activist—a radical, selfish resident who doesn’t want change.  “Not In My Back Yard.”

I have to wonder exactly when it became radical to stand up for one’s rights. The day we stop having the right to defend our homestead is the day we are Communists. I didn’t get that memo.

I am a real estate professional. My wife and I own and operate a successful real estate brokerage in Webster, MA. The reason I bring this up is because as a licensed real estate professional, I know that every single homeowner in the United States is conveyed a “bundle of rights” with each and every real estate transaction. One of these rights is “The Right to Quiet Enjoyment.”

The “Right to Quiet Enjoyment” does not mean you have the right to have someone arrested for talking on your property. However, it does allow you to defend your property against nuisance, which can be noise, traffic or other types of trespass. This is a civil and legal right, which is included with each and every real estate transaction. Most homeowners have no idea whatsoever of this right.

Now let’s talk about my “backyard.” I bought my land in 2000. When I bought it, I researched the abutting parcels and made sure I understood the zoning of the surrounding land. I live in a single family agricultural development which borders some undeveloped land in Douglas, as well as 3 or 4 miles of state forest. The Douglas land abutting my property was zoned as industrial land. The Douglas Town bylaws stated a 50 to 75 ft max height for any structure, which is just about the average height of the tree line. I understood this, accepting that if an industrial complex were to be proposed, it would be similar to our other industrial parks in the area, with light manufacturing or construction. I did not expect an airport or oil refinery, based on the demographics.

When the Douglas wind farm was proposed, we were notified as abutters—once. We attended the first “informational” meeting. The wind developer was looking for a height and use variance of up to 540 feet. The developer had well-prepared answers to all our questions, and we weren’t allowed to speak in any detail.

After that, some more meetings were held—of which we were not notified. A variance was then issued, allowing the developer to move forward with a project of up to 540 feet high . . . right in my back yard.

How does a town bylaw get by-passed in the blink of and eye with a 10X height variance with no discussion or vote from the abutters? I have no idea, but I’m learning fast. By the way, the population of Douglas (who can vote) is over 3 miles away from the nearest turbine.

One of the Douglas Selectmen was recently asked how the Douglas wind project was going. “I can’t see or hear it from my back yard,” was his reply.

This is the perfect storm for a wind developer. The host municipality is completely in favor because of no perceived impact, and the abutting municipality has no jurisdiction, so they can be ignored and intimidated with the NIMBY card. The wind developers look at abutters as “hiccups” in the process, and rely on the fact that a small group of residents will eventually get overwhelmed and surrender.

From day one, they roll in, pitch the benefits of green energy and how wonderful it will be. No negative impacts are discussed in any detail, and, if they are brought up, the conversation is stifled. It’s a one-way conversation.

Unfortunately for this wind developer, our abutting neighborhood has a high concentration of professionals, many of which are in the real estate, legal and financial industries. We have a very clear understanding of our right to quiet enjoyment as well as all of our other civil rights as property owners. We are proud of our back yards. We earned them, we paid for them and we aren’t about to lose them to an ill-planned project sited at least 5 times too close to a residential neighborhood.

To all of you playing the NIMBY card: You need to really ask yourself if you’d be willing to “take one for the team” at the expense of your family. It’s one thing to make a sacrifice for the benefit of your family, but when a sacrifice will affect your families’ quality of life, that’s another story.

I can tell you with no hesitation whatsoever, I have no shame for refusing to personally subsidize a poorly planned renewable energy project for the perceived good of ANYONE. I don’t care what your position is on renewable energy. Monstrous moving towers don’t belong in MY BACK YARD. They don’t belong in ANYONE’s back yard.

If you told all the state employees in Massachusetts that they would take a pay cut for each wind turbine that was erected, a new buzz phrase would be coined: “Not In My Back Pocket,” and renewable energy would yesterday’s news. This is nothing more than a big game of “hot potato.”

Legislators seem to lean on the anti-NIMBY crusade to convince us common folk it is selfish to protest progress. Massachusetts State Rep. Paul Kujawski is in favor of the Douglas project and also voted YES on the recent Wind Energy Energy Siting Reform Act H.4955. Ironically, Rep. Kujawski recently played the NIMBY role to keep a shopping mall out of his backyard in Webster, MA. He led a swift and surgical defeat at a Webster town meeting. He said the reason he fought against the mall was because it was “too close to the school,” which would have been about ½ mile away. I wasn’t aware shopping malls were a threat to schools. Call me crazy, but I’d actually assume a shopping mall could be a positive thing for kids, providing a safe place to socialize, as well as a place for teens to find a part-time job.

As for wind turbines, I have done my homework. I know the physics behind these enormous machines. I know they don’t work nearly as well as they are supposed to. I know exactly how they work. The problem with the NIMBY critics is that most HAVEN’T done much homework beyond “It makes green energy.” The public is incredibly uninformed. Most people think wind turbines are powered by wind. This is a myth. Wind turbines are powered by taxes. If the government subsidies were taken away, wind power would be gone with the wind.

Four years ago, the global economy went into a downward spiral because of sub-prime lending, which was basically the practice of subsidizing high-risk borrowers so they could get money they wouldn’t have been able to get with a conventional loan.

Today, the wind energy frenzy is subsidizing wind projects that wouldn’t be feasible without the grants. Germany has the largest wind power network in the world. Germany has 25 Gigawatts of wind generation capacity, but actually produces about 2 Gigawatts. This is less than 10% efficiency. The UK has similar results, with some projects returning only 6% of their capacity. Wind energy is “sub-prime energy” and the bubble will burst when the government stops pouring money into it.

Today, wind turbines threaten my civil rights and my quality of life. Tomorrow it might be something else. Regardless of the threat, I will never be ashamed to defend my right to enjoy and defend my property and quality of life. I truly feel sorry for anyone who believes we should be obligated to surrender even one square millimeter of our back yard for any cause—period.

Contact:  chad.pepin@gmail.com, (508) 943-1005

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