Community obstacles to large scale solar: NIMBY and renewables

Abstract

The need to decrease dependency on fossil fuels has never been more evident. Wind and solar energy sources offer promise, but siting can present obstacles. While resistance to wind and massive solar projects has, to some extent, been explored, larger, residential, ground-mounted solar projects, requiring many acres of land, and largely dependent on the receptivity of a local community for successful adoption, have largely been left unexamined. This case study explores the resistance of residents in one suburban, New England town, to a large-scale (2 MW), ground-mounted solar project in a residential neighborhood. The case study incorporates a mixed methodology of participant observation, interview, content analysis, social media activism, and participatory action research. Both the centralized nature of large scale residential solar projects, nonlocal financiers and beneficiaries, and the desire to keep residential areas esthetically pleasing and properly zoned, fueled opposition to this solar project. This research indicates that environmental advocates and policymakers need to more fully incorporate both the meanings of, and connections to places, residents of a community hold. Incentives intended to increase solar projects should not be at the expense of procedural justice, and the push should not feed solar into the centralized system, but should be in the hands of local communities in order for them to be embraced. Additionally, this case further highlights the complexity of NIMBY thinking in renewable projects. Dismissing all renewable opposition as NIMBY is failing to see the complicated nature of residents’ motivations and understandings of place. Future research exploring the success of decentralized projects, community based projects, and projects incorporated within industrial zoning is necessary.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Large scale solar sites is operationalized as sites proposed, in permitting, or under construction in Massachusetts anywhere from roughly 500 Kw which takes almost two acres of land to 6 MW which can cover 24 acres of land.

  2. 2.

    Author of these articles is a former Bullard Memorial Farm Association member, ancestor, and historian. Original survey documents remain in private possession of the farm. Copies were obtained, but cannot be linked.

  3. 3.

    The town passed the new solar bylaw in May of 2012.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge the residents of the Bullard area for their commitment, participation and activism, in particular, Thom Gilbert who spent many hours reviewing and editing this and many other related documents during the journey.

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Correspondence to Sandra George O’Neil.

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O’Neil, S.G. Community obstacles to large scale solar: NIMBY and renewables. J Environ Stud Sci 11, 85–92 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-020-00644-3

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Keywords

  • Solar
  • Renewable
  • NIMBY
  • Zoning