Local opposition to wind and solar development growing across the country, survey finds
Energize Weekly, June 14, 2023
The number of local regulations on renewable energy projects, which could hamper, delay or block development, is on the rise in the U.S., according to a report by the Columbia University Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
A center survey of state and local governments found 228 local restrictions across 35 states as well as 293 projects that have received “significant opposition” in 45 states.
“In nearly every state, local governments have enacted policies to block or restrict renewable energy facilities and local opposition has resulted in the delay or cancelation of particular projects,” the report said
These steps include moratoria on wind or solar energy development; outright development bans; regulations so restrictive that they can act as de facto bans on wind or solar development; and zoning amendments that are designed to block a specific proposed project.
Other local restrictions include ordinances limiting the height of wind turbines and rotor length, limits to solar facilities occupying certain categories of farmland and siting requirements blocking projects from being built near homes.
“The report demonstrates that local opposition to renewable energy facilities is widespread and growing, and represents a potentially significant impediment to achievement of climate goals,” the report said.
Some of the states with the most renewable energy development, including Texas, New York, and Kansas, have seen more opposition to projects.
Since March 2022, when the center did its last survey, 59 new restrictions have been adopted and 82 additional projects are being contested and not only by new ordinances or moratoria.
“In many instances opponents seek to block a specific project using means other than local legislation, including strategies that are commonly used to challenge development,” the report said.
Local individuals and groups have used appearances at public hearings, petitions, intervening in administrative proceedings, and lawsuits against local governments or developers to oppose projects.
“Opponents have succeeded in delaying a project’s approval, scaling down a project’s size, or achieving a project’s cancelation,” the center said.
For example, a civil lawsuit filed by property owners against the proposed Noccalula Wind Energy Center, in Cherokee County, Alabama, prompted Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy to pull out of its lease in 2014, the report said.
Vineyard Wind 1, an offshore wind farm under construction off the coast of Massachusetts, has been the target of multiple lawsuits. One complaint over the impact on the North Atlantic right whale has been dismissed in U.S. District Court, but three others suits are pending.
Nine states have also adopted regulations on new renewable energy development, but the survey found that state-level restrictions are less common and “generally more limited in scope” than local restriction.
In Kansas, for example, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius instituted a wind development moratorium in 2004 on a small region of the Flint Hills to protect the tallgrass prairie. In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback doubled the protected area, renaming it the “Tallgrass Heartland.” The moratorium was continued in July 2020 by Gov. Laura Kelly.
The local government actions have varied broadly.
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors banned “utility oriented renewable energy” in rural areas in 2019, although the law does allow individual household solar panels and community solar projects.
An indefinite moratorium on wind farm construction was enacted in Hardin County, Iowa, in 2019.
In Alachua County, commissioners voted in 2021 to reject the proposed Sand Bluff Solar Project outside Archer, Florida. Opposition against the project centered on the project’s proposed location within a historically Black community and a lack of adequate community outreach.
County commissioners in DeKalb County, Indiana, passed a new ordinance in 2019 that imposes a 3,000-foot setback from property lines. The ordinance also requires that neighboring residents experience no shadow flicker from wind turbine blades.
Other Indiana setback requirements include 1,760-foot buffer from property lines and 2,400-foot setback from homes in Jasper County and a minimum 3,960-foot setback in Kosciusko County.