Overcoming Opposition to Renewable Energy Facilities in America

In 2019, 77% of the U.S. population supported renewables over fossil fuels. So, why doesn’t renewable energy account for a majority of our electricity generation?

To explore this paradox, our research team at MIT has studied more than 50 American renewable energy projects that were paused, delayed, or canceled because of stiff opposition. We found certain patterns of conflict that arises when developers propose new renewable energy facilities. We’ve created an open access database describing a wide range of renewable energy siting conflicts. Our goal is to pinpoint the key sources of opposition in the hope of avoiding or mitigating future conflicts.

Project website.

Sources of opposition to renewable energy projects in the United States

Many policy analysts believe that once electricity from renewable energy becomes less expensive than electricity from fossil fuel, new renewable energy facilities will be built quickly across the United States. Cost-effective renewable energy has largely been achieved, but there appear to be substantial barriers to building new renewable energy facilities. We identified 53 utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects that were delayed or blocked between 2008 and 2021 in 28 U.S. states. Using multi-level qualitative analysis, we have identified seven key sources of opposition. Of the projects we studied, 34% faced significant delays and difficulties securing permits, 49% were cancelled permanently, and 26% resumed after being stopped for several months or years. Project delays and cancellations account for potential lost generating capacity of almost 4600 MW. State and local governments and renewable energy developers need to pay closer attention to the full range of socially-oriented sources of opposition to new facilities.