By Robert Bradley Jr.
“[A]cross the United States, rural communities have become a flashpoint for siting for wind and solar energy projects…. [T]he cumulative impact … could matter to efforts to reach climate goals. And the Apex experience in Vermillion County [Indiana] proves just how challenging it can be.” (E&E News, May 18, 2022)
Has the tide turned against the hideous government-enabled superstructures politely called industrial wind turbines? Robert Bryce has been following community rejections of such projects since at least 2016 and 2017. His tally today has reached 330 wind and industrial solar projects (databank list here). The number is growing, and with growing electricity issues, hard questions are being asked.
The mainstream media portrays renewable siting controversies as an isolated issue. But the intrepid Bryce is breaking through the narrative of a inevitable ‘renewables future’ and ‘reset’ from mineral energies. Actually, the renewables’ takeover is the opposite of “green” as documented in Planet of the Humans.
The public has caught on, particularly in rural America that now has had plenty of experience with promises and results of wind and solar developers. And with wounded electricity grids, wind turbines and multi-acre solar ‘farms’ are billboards for power outages and blackouts.
A recent article by E&E News, “Ind. experiment highlights wind siting challenge” (Jeffrey Tomich 05/18/2022) tells the story, one that the climate/renewable complex does not want to hear. Excerpts from this article follow.
This area [in Newport, Indiana served by Duke Energy Corp.’s Cayuga Coal Generating Station] is primed to sport new symbols of homegrown energy, in the form of wind turbines. But officials in Vermillion County effectively outlawed wind energy last year, squashing overtures from renewable energy developer Apex Clean Energy Inc.
The county is hardly alone. About a third of the Hoosier State is off-limits to wind because of similar restrictions. Indeed, across the United States, rural communities have become a flashpoint for siting for wind and solar energy projects.
What makes the outcome in Vermillion County notable is that few, if any, developers have gone to the extraordinary lengths that Apex did to win the public’s trust. It offered not only unprecedented input in helping decide where to build a wind farm, but also a piece of the profits. But this new process yielded the same outcome as less ambitious ones: no project at all.
By itself, a single county’s rejection of wind energy doesn’t register. But the cumulative impact of local zoning restrictions across the nation could matter to efforts to reach climate goals. And the Apex experience in Vermillion County proves just how challenging it can be.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to build a lot of stuff in order to decarbonize,” said Sarah Mills, a lecturer at the University of Michigan who studies local permitting for renewable energy.
Wind and solar are considered “linchpins” for helping the U.S. reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury, according to a study from Princeton University last year on a “Net-Zero America.”
Wind energy alone would have to grow at least sixfold, with turbines built across 240,000 to 1 million square kilometers, depending on which of five decarbonization pathways is chosen. The larger area would span the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa combined….
Still, finding sites suitable to develop projects represents a potential bottleneck. “In many scenarios, there’s flexibility to find alternative siting patterns that avoid such restrictions,” Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton and an author of the net-zero study, said in an email. “But the more such restrictions in place, and the more heavily a scenario relies on wind and solar capacity, the more challenging things become.”
A forthcoming study from clean energy nonprofit ClearPath focuses on the impact of wind energy siting restrictions in a key state — Iowa — and found a “significant impact” from locally established setbacks and moratoriums on wind development.
None of this is news to renewable developers, which must navigate zoning regulations that can differ dramatically from county to county in most states or, in Michigan, at the township level. “It is a challenge,” said Hilary Clark, director of siting at American Clean Power, the Washington-based trade association for the renewable industry….
The challenge of siting projects isn’t new to Apex, a Charlottesville, Va.-based company that has built wind farms across the U.S.
In 2019, opponents prompted a zoning change that killed Apex’s 300-megawatt Roaming Bison Wind project in Montgomery County, less than an hour’s drive east from Vermillion County….
It’s the reason why the company tried a “radical experiment” in how it engaged Vermillion County, including letting residents help decide where and how a project could fit there.
“The fundamental idea was we wanted to give the community broadly the ability to help us actually design a project — not just say yes or no to a project we designed. We hoped this would give them a greater sense of control and ownership that might lead to increased local support for the final result and, ideally, make a better project along the way,” Dahvi Wilson, the company’s vice president of public affairs, said in an interview.
“One of the premises of our idea was that the standard county process that exists for making decisions isn’t working very well,” she said. “We hoped to get to a place where we could have honest conversations about these trade-offs and potential benefits and let them figure out what they want.”
Wilson has a background in community organizing and came up with the new strategy based on scores of research on the topic, including work by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Berkeley Lab study, based on a survey of residents living near existing wind farms, found that communities that host projects are strongly influenced by their perception of the development process….
The research identified three aspects of fairness. The first involves a community having a say in a project. The community also must see developers as transparent and have influence over the outcome….
Apex launched a campaign, Exploring Wind Vermillion, using direct mail, phone calls, surveys and social media to solicit opinions about a wind energy project in the county. The company hosted a webinar and established an office along a busy roadway, across from the local Hardee’s restaurant.
To help earn trust, the company hired a third-party facilitator. It also signed lease agreements with anyone willing to host a turbine (with the understanding that only those who did would receive payments). The company pledged to share 1 percent of the profits from a wind farm to a nonprofit or entity of residents’ choosing — in addition to the landowner lease payments and taxes paid to the county.
A company website also featured an online mapping tool that divided the county into eight zones. Residents could see maps of wind speeds, transmission access and population density. A heat map showed where the company had received the greatest interest from landowners….
But the whole outreach got little traction. Few people engaged the company or answered Apex’s surveys. Those who did pay attention were county commissioners, who pursued a zoning ordinance for wind energy projects.
The result: a 36-page ordinance that, among other restrictions, requires the base of turbines to be set back at least 2 miles from neighboring property lines and roadway rights of way.
Even a half-mile setback would make nearly the entire county off-limits for wind development. Two miles is a de facto ban.
“There’s not a single acre in the county that you could put a turbine on,” Wilson said….
How to engage rural communities on the topic of renewable energy is an area of increasing interest among researchers and advocates across the nation…. To a large extent, selling rural communities on renewable energy is retail politics…. And warning about the dire consequences of climate change isn’t part of that message….
Disinformation about wind and solar energy projects is frequently cited in zoning disputes at the local level, and that plays a role, Kopp said. But he views these unsubstantiated claims about turbine noise or adverse impacts to property values as justification to oppose a project, not necessarily the driver for opposition….
Disinformation? Numerous posts at MasterResource have documented the problems experienced by nearby residents from industrial wind. Tomorrow’s post examines the growing international movement to apply tort claims against wind developers in this regard.
So, when will the “green” movement get that the massive infrastructure requirement of wind and solar are the problem–and dilute, intermittent renewables are the problem? To ask the same question another way, when will environmentalists get real on climate and energy to go green with the best energies, the consumer-driven, taxpayer-neutral ones?
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May 31, 2022