Nov 2, 2023
Oct 31, 2023
Oct 26, 2023
Oct 26, 2023
Oct 24, 2023
Oct 26, 2023
Researchers from Berkeley Lab, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan conducted in-depth case studies and interviews across 7 utility-scale solar sites in diverse U.S. locations, ranging from the Southwest to the Midwest. The selected sites represented a wide range of project sizes from 1 to 80 MW, as well as varied locations, site types, and local zoning contexts. In total, they interviewed 54 diverse stakeholders including local residents living near the projects, landowners, developers, local officials, utility representatives, and community organizations.
The semi-structured interviews utilized open-ended questions to elucidate stakeholder perceptions, identify key factors influencing project support or opposition, and develop strategies to better align large-scale solar development with community needs and values. The interviews focused on topics like the development process, distribution of economic impacts, environmental justice considerations, and ideas for more effective community engagement.
Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed two major categories of findings—insights related to the solar development process itself and insights around perceived impacts of the projects. For example, engaging residents early, disseminating transparent information, and offering meaningful opportunities for feedback were found to increase community acceptance and support for proposed projects. However, economic benefits from the solar developments tended to flow disproportionately to local landowners who leased land rather than broader community residents, exacerbating socioeconomic equity gaps. Locals also frequently expressed concerns over potential visual impacts of solar arrays and related infrastructure like fencing and transmission lines, which were often overlooked during engagement efforts. Climate change and emissions reductions were rarely local priorities. Strategies like community solar, benefit sharing plans, and third-party engagement can improve alignment and equity in the future.
The CCSD interviews underscore the importance of early, active community engagement in renewable energy siting. Providing transparent information and opportunities for feedback builds trust and support for projects. However, economic benefits from projects often flow disproportionately to landowners rather than broader community residents. This exacerbates existing socioeconomic inequities. Locals also expressed concerns over visual impacts of solar infrastructure, which were often overlooked in engagement efforts. Here’s summary of the main insights:
Early, active engagement with transparent info builds support for projects
Direct economic benefits flow disproportionately to landowners over residents
Visual impacts of solar sites worry locals more than climate benefits
Community solar, benefit plans, neutral mediators can address inequities
Locals want more direct engagement, advocacy, and grassroots collaboration
Strategies exist to address these issues, including community solar programs, benefit sharing plans, and third-party facilitators to bridge communication gaps. But more work is needed. Locals want increased, equitable engagement and roles for grassroots advocates. As states like California, New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts look to streamline permitting, they should be cautious not to neglect local priorities. Community-centered siting processes, though intensive, can ultimately accelerate an inclusive transition.
Bessette, Doug, Joseph Rand, Ben Hoen, Karl Hoesch, Jake White, Sarah Mills, and Robi Nilson. 2023. “Community Centered Solar Development (CCSD) Study Interviews.” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. https://emp.lbl.gov/publications/community-centered-solar-development.