Challenges to the Growth of Renewable Energy Projects

While renewable energy projects offer a lot of benefits and are growing at a significant rate, there is still quite a bit of pushback in various parts of the nation that should merit the attention of electric utilities.

A new report, “Opposition to Renewable Energy Facilities in the United States,” published by the Sabin Center’s Renewable Energy Legal Defense Initiative (RELDI) at Columbia University, finds that local opposition to renewable energy projects around the nation is growing.

RELDI conducts independent research on issues related to siting renewable energy infrastructure and facilitates pro bono legal representation to community groups and local residents who support renewable energy developments in their communities that are facing opposition.

“Local opposition has proven to be a significant barrier to the rapid expansion of renewable energy facilities across the United States,” said the report. The report identifies 378 renewable energy projects across 47 states that have encountered significant opposition. The report also identifies 395 local restrictions across 41 states, along with 19 state-level restrictions, that are so severe that they could have the effect of blocking a renewable energy project.

The report, which is the fourth edition, covers developments through December 31, 2023. (Previous editions of the report were published in September 2021, March 2022, and May 2023.)

This fourth edition identifies 73 percent more local restrictions than the May 2023 edition (from 228 to 395), 111 percent more state-level restrictions than the May 2023 edition (from 9 to 19), and 29 percent more contested projects than the May 2023 edition (from 293 to 378).

Key findings from the report include:

1 – Local governments have increasingly taken action to oppose the siting of power lines and battery storage facilities that will be necessary to transmit and store electricity generated by renewable energy facilities. In Maine, for example, two towns recently passed moratoria on the siting of utility lines in response to the Aroostook Renewable Gateway Project; and in New York, the Town of Long Lake passed a one-year moratorium in August 2023 on permits for battery energy storage systems.

2 – An increasing number of local governments have adopted ordinances prohibiting solar energy systems from farmlands. For example, at least seven townships in Michigan and four counties in Virginia prohibit or substantially restrict solar development on agricultural land.

3 – There has been significant litigation against offshore wind projects. Between the end of May 2023 and the end of December 2023, several new lawsuits were filed in federal court by local governments, historical preservation societies, fishing industry groups, coastal residents, and other plaintiffs seeking to reverse federal approval of the Revolution Wind, South Fork Wind, and Ocean Wind projects. In addition, four federal lawsuits against the Vineyard Wind project were dismissed and subsequently appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. All of these federal lawsuits include claims that the agencies approving the projects violated the National Environmental Policy Act, among other federal causes of action. At the state level, eight municipalities sued the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in New Jersey state court over its review and certification of the Atlantic Shores project.

4 – Counties in Ohio are continuing to adopt binding resolutions to create restricted areas where large wind or solar projects are prohibited pursuant to 2021’s Senate Bill 52 (S.B. 52). By December 31, 2023, at least 22 counties in Ohio had adopted such resolutions, an increase of eight counties since the end of May 2023.

5 – In the span of only four months, at least nine townships in Marathon County and Clark County, Wisconsin, adopted ordinances that require large wind turbines to be set back the greater of one mile or ten times turbine height from property lines, substantially restricting where turbines can be sited in those townships. These ordinances were adopted despite a state law that prohibits local governments from placing restrictions on wind or solar facilities unless those restrictions: (a) protect health or safety; (b) do not significantly increase the cost or decrease efficiency; or (c) allow for an alternative system of comparable cost and efficiency.


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