It’s an ill wind

The first time I heard the term NIMBY, it was applied to me.

I’d spoken against some lame-ass project a developer was trying to slide through the Washoe County Commission. A dozen people stood with me; twice as many workers choreographed by the developer stood up for him. The commission worked its magic, and POOF, we were losers.

Later, in the restroom, I heard the builder and a commissioner joking and stroking each other.

“Them damn NIMBYs make me sick,” one said. “They want the benefits of progress, but,” in a mincing falsetto, “'I don’t want to see your nasty old project from my house.'”

He was half right: I didn’t care, and don’t care now, about most of what’s called “progress.” Another half-dozen strip malls won’t make my life better. If we’re going to get them, though, I don’t want to see them from my house.

What I’ve never understood is why I’m supposed to be ashamed of that.

The trappings of civilization can be useful. Up close, though, they’re often bad neighbors. When an executive with a utility or trash-hauling company announces that an impartial study has found that the best place for his powerline or dump is in his back yard, I’ll reconsider my opposition to having one in mine.

Still, it’s got to go somewhere, and the fight over a wind farm north of Spanish Springs is a harbinger of battles, if not wars, to come.

A company called Nevada Wind wants to put wind turbines in the Pah Rah range. Homes in the area are mostly on 40-acre lots, presumably occupied by people who moved there to escape the trappings of civilization. Most are cool to the idea of 44 giant windmills on their skylines.

The $190 million project is significant but not overwhelming: If built as described, it could supply power for 36,000 homes. In operation it would provide only 17 jobs, but during construction it could kick off about $7 million in taxes. That sounds OK at a time when many Nevadans don’t know where their next rent payment will come from.

On the down side, those are some big damned turbines: 250-foot blades atop 300-foot towers. Imagine something the length of a football field, only standing on end. Residents will get used to them, in the way you get used to athlete’s foot, but they won’t improve anybody’s view.

I was planning a stirring essay on where society’s responsibility lies, with the property owners and their right to use and enjoy their land, or with the greatest good for the greatest number, even if a few have to suffer.

In figuring it out, though, I bogged down.

Changes in my own community, annexed to the Reno many of us fled in disgust, make me sympathetic to the homeowners. Where my children and I used to picnic and watch wildlife, there’s a golf course and a Cabela’s. Neither is of interest to us—but either is better than 44 giant windmills.

Still, I’ve spent the last 30 years yammering about our need to develop alternative sources of energy, and there’s one poised in the Pah Rahs with nothing in the way but a few cranky hermits. Can we let them stop progress?

In every such case, and there may be many, we’ll have to consider all the angles: Who will lose, who will gain, the effect on habitat, wildlife and property values, whether the builders can deliver after they get big tax breaks, and the most important of all:

Will I see it from my house?