SNS Research Brief 84. Is NIMBYism Standing in the Way of the Clean Energy Transition?

Stephen Jarvis

Forecasts indicate that renewable energy production must increase rapidly by 2050. However, even though many people welcome new solar and wind power projects, fewer want them in their own back yard. Overcoming such opposition will require reforming planning rules and making these kinds of projects more profitable for those living close by, argues Stephen Jarvis, Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in a new SNS report.

SNS Research Brief 84. Is NIMBYism Standing in the Way of the Clean Energy Transition 198.4 KB PDF

As the energy sector is undergoing a transformation, local interests are set against national and global objectives. Building more solar and wind power is key to tackling climate change and providing energy security, but when it comes to wind power in particular, many people adopt a negative view on new projects being constructed close to their homes. Stephen Jarvis discusses several explanations behind this in his report Is NIMBYism Standing in the Way of the Clean Energy Transition? For instance, some people fear that such projects will reduce the value of their properties, which, according to some studies, can be the case.

“The depreciation in the value of individual properties is usually negligible compared to the social costs when such projects are delayed, become more expensive or are abandoned. However, local decision-makers often care more about what local residents think than what is best for society as a whole,” says Stephen Jarvis.

In his report, he highlights that local rules and decisions have slowed down the expansion of wind power in, for instance, Sweden and Germany. He also finds that wind power in the United Kingdom has become GBP 8–23 billion more expensive (approx. SEK 100–287 billion) than necessary due to poor coordination with regard to local decisions.

Nevertheless, Jarvis maintains it is possible to solve these problems. One way is to make wind power more profitable for those living nearby. This can be done by means of municipal ownership, additional local tax revenues or payments from the power companies when such projects are built.

Another way involves transferring decision-making power from the local to the regional or national level. In Sweden, discussions are already under way in terms of removing the municipal veto on new wind power.

Power companies and politicians may also benefit from seeking to engage local communities sooner and to a greater extent.

By using new and more coherent political approaches, the transition to green energy could take place faster and cheaper, according to Stephen Jarvis.

“The patchwork of rules and processes governing these contexts is becoming increasingly outdated,” he says.

The report is published within the framework of the SNS project Energy systems of the future.


about the author

Stephen Jarvis is an Assistant Professor in Environmental Economics at the Department of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He works in areas such as electricity markets, climate change, air pollution and the political economy of green energy.