Renewable Energy Siting Clinic

Meeting U.S. decarbonization goals necessitates a rapid transition to renewable energy. Understanding sources of local resistance and transforming the facility siting process are essential next steps to ensure that renewable energy projects are not blocked by local opponents.

The MIT Renewable Energy Clinic provides a neutral forum to help all relevant stakeholders including the developers and communities in achieving a collaborative siting process. Case-by-case consensus building and joint problem-solving—rather than a general solution— is crucial to brokering fair and efficient agreements. A clinical approach to mediation in renewable energy projects can result in more collaboration between stakeholders and citizens, ensuring that every project develops fully in a way that is agreeable to all stakeholders and benefits the community.

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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.

A University-based Clinical Approach to Renewable Energy Facility Siting in the United States

The licensing and siting of new renewable energy facilities in the United States is facing growing resistance from communities who perceive the process as inequitable or unfair. We propose that a national consortium of university-based clinics could help minimize conflicts by facilitating joint fact-finding and collaborative problem-solving.

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