Report: When Residents Support Solar—Just ‘Not in My Backyard’

This City Lab article discusses what to do when residents support solar, except when it is nearby. While the American public broadly favors expanding renewable energy, that support doesn’t always extend to the photovoltaic panels next door.

Soon, Fawn Lake will have a new neighbor: a 500 MW solar power plant, with an array of 1.8 million panels. In April, the Utah-based solar company S-Power won approval from the county board of advisors to build the largest section of its plant on part of the 6,350 acres of logging land adjoining the cul-de-sacs of Fawn Lake. And many residents aren’t happy about it.

The Facebook group Concerned Citizens of Spotsylvania County, which includes 831 members, lays out in detail nine arguments against S-Power’s project. Not only will the facility destroy “greenhouse gas-reducing” forest lands, they cite fire risks, negative health effects from the burning of trees during construction, and damage to Spotsylvania’s historic character (and their own home values). But their main critique is simple: The project is just too big. The 10-square mile facility would be the fifth-largest solar plant in the U.S., and the largest on the East Coast.

Politics plays a role, too. New research shows that residential solar installations enjoy fairly bipartisan support from both Democratic and Republican homeowners, “despite extreme ideological polarization around climate change,” the authors wrote.

 (It’s worth noting that the “solar heat island effect”—in which large-scale desert facilities increase local temperatures—is grounded in sound science, though researchers say it’s not well-studied enough to be used against developments.)

So what should a prospective solar developer know before pursuing a project? Carlisle’s research found that residents want buffer zones between them and proposed facilities.

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