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California dreamin’.

Two stories today highlight the efforts of organized wind farm opposition in Michigan and Minnesota. Coincidentally, another article from the Los Angeles Times over the weekend looks at similar backlash to wind and solar projects in desert areas of California and Arizona.

The anti-development arguments will be familiar to anyone who follows these things. But in the sun-drenched southwest, there’s the additional angle of distributed vs. centralized energy:

Activists there and elsewhere say that the fight is more than a classic case of “not in my backyard” resistance. Large, remote projects aren’t the only solution to the nation’s energy woes, they say.

City-dwellers could produce just as much clean electricity without the transmission hassles, they said, using rooftop solar panels, small wind turbines, fuel cells and other adaptable forms of renewable energy generation.

“Large, remote projects.” Isn’t that the case with most types of electricity generation? Some cities get their energy from local, municipal dams and power plants, but generally, big generating stations are located in rural areas far from the people that consume the energy.

A recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle makes a similar criticism of the controversial Sunflower coal plant proposed for western Kansas:

The Sunflower coal plant has been the subject of exhausting legislative and legal fights for five years, in part because Colorado would get most of the power while Kansas would get the air pollution and provide the water.

That’s an important social dynamic – rural culture is steeped in the mythical ideal of self-reliance (I know this, having grown up in small towns). So, it’s understandable that people in these communities would be resistant to a large, industrial-scale project that will primarily benefit city dwellers. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s nevertheless part of the equation that is often ignored.

In the L.A. Times story, Tom Soto, a California environmental activist, offers this salient warning:

“These large projects enter at their own peril without involving the community. Just because they’re renewables instead of landfills doesn’t mean they’re off the hook.”

Photo by Xavier de Jaureguiberry via Creative Commons

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.