Renewable Blocked: What’s Slowing Down Solar and Wind Growth in the U.S?

Wichita, Kansas – The rise of wind and solar power has been met with increased opposition, especially since 2021, as reported by USA TODAY. In a nationwide analysis conducted by the news organization, it was found that 15% of counties have implemented some form of restriction on new utility-scale wind and solar energy projects.

These impediments include outright bans, zoning restrictions, specialized land-use rules, and political barriers. The Bans category includes instances where counties completely prohibit large renewable energy projects due to a backlash against their growing presence. For example, Pulaski County in Indiana banned all commercial wind turbines in an effort to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents.

Moratoriums are another type of impediment, with 26 counties having restrictions placed on new solar projects and 17 on wind projects by the end of 2023. In many cases, these moratoriums are put in place due to a lack of adequate zoning and regulation, requiring additional time to craft new laws.

Moreover, impediments are created through rules related to heights and setbacks. Counties impose height limits and setback requirements on turbines that make it difficult for projects to be economically viable. For instance, Connecticut’s law requires setbacks of at least 2.5 times a turbine’s height, effectively preventing new wind projects from being built in the state.

In addition, challenges such as noise limits and the banning of wind turbines on ridge tops further hinder the development of renewable energy projects. For instance, Tennessee passed a law that makes large-scale wind projects almost impossible by setting a minimum setback of 1,500 feet and noise limits of 35 decibels, and height limits of 500 feet on mountain ridges.

The article then delves into the political blocks that some counties impose by refusing to engage with or making it impossible for developers to build solar or wind projects. For example, the County Commission in Labette County, Kansas, has refused to sign road agreements with any industrial wind developer.

However, amidst these challenges, some areas remain open to renewable energy projects. States like Texas and Wyoming have demonstrated leadership in wind and solar-powered electricity, with no county-level blocks to renewables due to their strong rules governing the rights of private property owners and the state’s history of energy extraction.

The comprehensive analysis was conducted by USA TODAY with data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. This revealed that 471 counties in the United States present significant challenges to building new, utility-scale wind or solar farms, thus highlighting the complexity and diversity of challenges faced by the renewable energy industry.

The article expresses the importance of renewable energy by urging states to simplify and speed up renewable siting efforts, as highlighted by the efforts from Maine and Washington. These states have adopted measures to support renewable energy projects, mapping out specific areas suitable for wind and solar development.

The analysis concluded that local ordinances are responsible for a reduction in wind and solar capacity, impacting the nation’s efforts to adopt cleaner energy sources. Finally, the story ends by recognizing the contribution of the McGraw Center for Business Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York in supporting the production of the article.