The siting of renewable energy infrastructure remains a contentious issue in some communities. Throughout the United States — both on the coasts and in the Midwest — new renewable energy development pits unlikely advocates against unlikely opposition. That said, more and more State governments that are looking to grow their renewable energy industries and meet climate goals are implementing legislative solutions to these renewable energy siting issues.
Local Opposition to Renewable Energy Siting
While nothing new, recent years have seen an increase in organized opposition to the siting of renewable energy infrastructure (commonly, “Not In My Backyard” opposition or “NIMBYism”). Such local opposition not only creates a public relations issue for developers and the renewable energy industry as a whole but can result in the delay or cancellation of projects.
Oftentimes, the opposition to such projects will file lawsuits alleging that the developers have run afoul with the county ordinances that regulate wind and solar development. But rather than alleging substantive violations under such ordinances—perhaps regarding setback requirements or viewshed requirements—these lawsuits often allege procedural violations such as a violation of an open meetings requirement.
With over 2,000 wind ordinances and nearly 1,000 solar ordinances blanketing the United States, there exists significant uncertainty around complying with local rules during renewable energy development. This additional friction often makes it more difficult for developers to do everything from signing up landowners to obtaining financing.
State Legislative Solutions
With states across the country attempting to generate good paying, green economy jobs all while hitting the climate goals they set for themselves, it’s no surprise that legislative solutions addressing the opposition to siting renewable energy infrastructure are becoming more common. Recently, Illinois followed both California and New York in enacting legislation that moves siting regulations from county level control to state level control.
The new Illinois law, HB4412, establishes requirements for utility scale wind and solar developers to comply with at a state level. While this law doesn’t prevent counties from moving forward with their own requirements, such requirements may not be stricter than those enforced at the state level.
The Upshot for Renewable Energy Developers
Laws like HB4412 will not only lower the risk of siting opponents derailing a utility scale wind or solar project, but such laws will drastically lower the number of local ordinances that a developer will have to comply with. With more states across the country looking into such one-stop-shop legislative fixes, working among the thousands of different wind and solar ordinances across the country might soon be a thing of the past.
Where Do We Go from Here
The tension around the siting of renewable energy is not going to go away any time soon. That said, as each new state demonstrates the effectiveness of state level renewable energy siting laws and what effect they can have on their local economies, we might soon start to see a trend. But with or without these laws renewable energy developers should do what they’ve always done—engage with local communities, local leaders, school districts, and other recipients of the economic benefits of these projects and demonstrate they are good corporate citizens deserving of the trust of the local community.