April 6, 2022


Don’t Let The Energy NIMBYs Trample Property Rights

By: Kelvey Vander Hart

Lately, it seems like we should adopt a new saying: “Where there is a good advancement, NIMBYs will be there to try and stop it.” The not-in-my-backyard crew seems to appear to suck the joy out of everything from California to New York. Renewable energy NIMBYs are especially rampant, and they are popping up across the country with a key message: “We are willing to trample on your property rights.” 

A great example of this is playing out right here in my neck of the woods: Iowa. To be more specific, Linn County, Iowa, where a battle is being waged over solar energy. 

NIMBYism hinges on the fact that typically, these folks will oppose something in their area while supporting it in theory elsewhere. While I personally have my doubts that many of these Linn County NIMBYs would actually support a solar farm elsewhere, the impact of theoretical support is significant. NIMBYs could, quite possibly, be more dangerous to good causes than folks who are adamantly opposed. When you tell people you do not adamantly oppose something in its entirety, they are more willing to listen to your case. 

That is exactly what makes these renewable energy NIMBYs here in Iowa a threat to property rights. “Solar should be developed in the desert,” they say. “Not on Iowa farmland. One problem here: Iowa farmland is privately owned by Iowa farmers who should be able to dictate what happens on their property. 

Is that stopping NIMBYs? Not even a little bit. Summoning a ‘for the greater good’ collective spirit, these folks lecture and berate their neighbors while attempting to regulate what they can and cannot do with their property. There may be no better face for this than Iowa’s Republican State Senator, Dan Zumbach.

Senator Zumbach has fiercely opposed solar in the Linn County area which he represents. He argues that ‘quality farmland’ should not be used for solar. (Iowa has 27 million acres of farmland. A report from Iowa’s Department of Commerce report from Iowa’s Department of Commerce establishes that even if Iowa were to install enough solar to rival the wind power capacity the state enjoys, it would would only require 75,000 acres, or less than 0.3 percent of Iowa farmland.) As Linn County’s solar project has moved forward even amid debate, Zumbach introduced Senate File 2127 which, if passed, will severely limit the property rights of farmland owners to allow the development of solar power. 

Iowa is just one example of NIMBYs pushing a scary narrative (solar would take over farmland instead of recognizing it would be a very, VERY small percentage used), fighting property rights at the local level to further their cause, and then trying to wield the power of the state legislature to limit property rights if it does not work at the local level. While this specific example is playing out in real time for me, you could likely look across the country and find a similar story happening, from the beaches of the East Coast to the deserts of California.

What should defenders of property rights be doing? Easy: Speaking up. Even if you do not love renewable energy, you have the ability to speak up and support the rights of property owners. A lot of this NIMBY war against renewable energy is being waged and regulated at a local level. Attend your city council, county supervisor, or local energy board meetings. Speak up and support the rights of property owners. Offering testimony or comments may seem insignificant, but it lets NIMBYs know that they will not be able to quietly trample on property rights without a fight.