Good fences make good neighbors: Stakeholder perspectives on the local benefits and burdens of large-scale solar energy development in the United States
In order to meet decarbonization goals, the number of large-scale solar (LSS) facilities in the US is expected to increase considerably. The advantages of LSS over fossil-fueled power generation are numerous and well documented. However, residents living nearby proposed and existing LSS sites have voiced a number of concerns about LSS, including its possible impacts to farmland and agricultural production, biodiversity, stormwater runoff, home and property values, as well as concerns about solar panels' toxicity and safety. While rapid expansion of LSS currently relies on officials permitting and residents being willing to host these systems, the appetite for LSS in some communities may be waning. Here we examine the perceived benefits and burdens of recent LSS developments, conducting 54 interviews with a broad set of stakeholders including residents, officials and developers at seven LSS sites across the US. We focus on identifying residents' most common concerns regarding LSS systems across states, site types, landscapes and ownership structures. We find concerns are associated with either LSS development processes or impacts, and center on the type and amount of information provided, the community's influence over project design, the efficacy of community subscription efforts, as well as projects' economic, environmental, and visual and landscape impacts. Importantly, we also investigate strategies that have been employed to improve perceptions and project outcomes, which include increasing in-person engagement, more explicit discussion of project tradeoffs, third-party intermediaries acting as community champions, and explicit requirements for meaningful local economic benefits.
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An open-access version of this article published in Energy Research & Social Science can be downloaded here.