Little Guys Can Prevail Over Big Corporations

By Roy L Hales

screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3-43-47-pm1Anti-wind activist Kevon Martis just sent an update about SB 438,  the bill that requiring Michigan to obtain 15% of its’ electricity from renewable sources. Martis’ initial response was discouragement. Then someone drew his attention to a clause in the final draft of that legislation that allows townships and counties to retain control over zoning for wind energy. Martis was reminded  that little guys can prevail over big corporations – but it takes a lot of work.

Little Guys Can Prevail Over Big Corporations

State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, speaks on the Senate floor on Thursday, Nov. 10 defending electric choice and lower electric rates for taxpayers - Courtesy Michigan State Senator Mike Shirkey
State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, speaks on the Senate floor on Thursday, Nov. 10 defending electric choice and lower electric rates for taxpayers – Courtesy Michigan State Senator
Mike Shirkey

That’s a paraphrase of state Senator Mike Shirkey’s letter, which I should quote in full:

“I can understand being disappointed.  But I strongly urge you to not be bitterly disappointed.

“We had success with local control preservation amendment.  We had excellent conversations amongst members understanding why this was important.  There was a very effective floor speech given to help establish legislative intent.  And we will now have an Energy Committee Chair in the House who will be a strong advocate.

“I’d like to offer help in getting your group aligned, at least on the narrow topic of protecting local zoning control, with the Township and County associations.

“This round of energy policy update demonstrates that ‘us little guys’ can prevail over the big guys….but it’s hard work.  And takes time.

“So, I am encouraging you to not be bitter but resolved.  Help us set an agenda for next session to establish priorities and a ‘win plan’ to keep ratepayers as the top priority.

“Thank you for your work.

“Mike Shirkey

My Common Ground With Kevin Martis

Unlike Martis, I am no longer “against” wind energy. My opinion changed after a press  trip to Germany. Some of the reports from Southern California are appalling, but wind farms appear to be working for much of Europe. I still have questions, but would describe my present attitude to wind energy as curious/intrigued. (I would love to see more wind farms and, if I get a chance, want to go to the top of a turbine.)

There are too many reports of “wind turbine syndrome” to ignore. I’ve come to believe that the probable cause is human response to the turbines rather than the turbine themselves. Otherwise we’d be hearing more about “airport syndrome” or “traffic syndrome,” as they are both noisier and more likely to generate high frequency sounds. However if living beside wind turbines makes people sick and there are alternatives, we need to ask which is more important: the people, or the tool?

Building a pipeline in Alberta by Jasonwoodhead23 via Flickr (CC BY SA< 2.0 License)
Building a pipeline in Alberta by Jasonwoodhead23 via Flickr (CC BY SA< 2.0 License)

Where I live, in British Columbia, the run-away corporations are from the fossil fuel sector. Kinder Morgan wants to build a pipeline, carrying diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands, through the most populated area of the province. This is expected to result in a seven-fold increase of tanker traffic. A major oil spill would devastate our tourism, fisheries and marine sectors. While this project may be profitable for Kinder Morgan, there is very little benefit for the average British Columbian and much risk. Cities like Vancouver, Burnaby and Victoria have joined with the environmental groups and First Nations opposing this pipeline.

We have similar problems with plans for massive expansion of the coal and natural gas sectors.

Which Is More Important: The Will Of The People?  Or Corporate Profits?

Opposing wind turbines may not sound as “green” as our struggles, but the underlying issues can be similar.

Some might ask, “What about the need to curb our emissions?”

This is a very real problem. Our weather patterns already changing and the possibility of holding the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees celsius seems increasingly unlikely.

However, we have choices. There are many technologies and strategies to curb emissions. We have choices.

All too often, the real question behind the opposition of rural communities to industrial scale projects appears to be which is more important: the will of the people?  or corporate profits?

Like Martis, I believe local communities should have the final word.

We supposedly live in a Democracy,” a term that originated with two Ancient Greek  words: “demos” (“people”) and “kratos,” (power).

This struggle is being fought throughout North America and there numerous examples of “little guys” prevailing over big corporations.

Top Photo Credit: Windfarm by Don Graham via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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