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The silent tragedy of local restrictions on renewable energy • The Revelator

New research shows how policies blocking cleaner energy sources, often inspired by persistent misinformation, harm the communities that adopt them.

Communities across the United States could soon find themselves facing a grim scenario. By passing local ordinances that hinder the development of new renewable energy resources within their borders, they have put themselves in danger of missing out on the next great technology-driven economic revolution: the transition to clean energy.

As you read this, rapid advances in renewable energy technology are transforming the way we power the American economy in the 21st century, bringing with them new economic opportunities and social and environmental benefits. Yet communities that have adopted or are considering adopting anti-renewable energy ordinances may find themselves watching as they miss out on the better jobs, cheaper electricity and cleaner environment that come with this transition.

Many of these communities already face high rates of unemployment and poverty, among other economic and social challenges, making the consequences of their legislation even more tragic.

The press and energy policy researchers have focused on the potential impact of these policies on achieving our nation’s broader decarbonization goals, but until now they have neglected the broader consequences of anti-energy orders renewable.

It is crucial that we closely monitor the distribution of the benefits and costs of the clean energy transition, as previous technology-driven economic revolutions – such as those brought about by steam engines, electrification and digital computers – have tended to reinforce pre-existing socio-economic inequalities. The clean energy transition offers a crucial opportunity to not only break this trend, but also reverse it.

Can we imagine the clean energy transition happening in a way that reduced inequality?

In our recently released report, my co-author and I explored these questions by creating a new tool called the Risk of Missing Out Index, which rates each county in the continental United States based on the extent of damage its Residents are likely to face because of local restrictions on renewable energy. The ROMO Index takes into account county-level data on employment and income, the amount of money households spend on energy costs (their “energy burden”), and the presence of anti-energy ordinances renewable energy and other indicators of local opposition to renewable energy. energy.

We also released an interactive map that allows users to see what, if any, clean energy restrictions exist in their communities and the impacts those restrictions could have for them and their neighbors.

Our analysis reveals that anti-renewable energy ordinances cause significant economic and social harm to communities across the United States, including some of the nation’s poorest and most economically distressed. A quarter of all counties in the continental United States have restrictions in place targeting wind, solar or battery storage development. Nearly a third of these communities already experience significantly higher unemployment, lower per capita income, and other socioeconomic risks compared to comparable areas. And more than a third of households face high levels of “energy burden”.

To be clear, the purpose of this research is not to malign all local policies affecting renewable energy development. There is ample scope for sensible policies to ensure that this development proceeds at the pace necessary to meet the challenge of the climate crisis without sacrificing the public interest. However, many of the ordinances covered in our report have had the effect and intent of thwarting most renewable energy projects in a given community.

Iroquois County in eastern Illinois illustrates the potential harms of these local restrictions. The county has a relatively high ROMO index due to its large low-income population, high unemployment rate, and low education level compared to the rest of the United States. Economic conditions are likely to get even worse. Agriculture, the county’s dominant industry, has become increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As a result, agricultural production has declined significantly in recent years, putting farmers’ livelihoods at risk.

Renewable energy development appears to offer Iroquois County residents a sorely needed economic lifeline, paving the way for diversifying local revenue sources and strengthening the community’s tax base. Thanks to its unique geography, the county ranks among the best in wind energy potential. Unfortunately, the county government has passed ordinances that significantly limit the development of solar and wind power generation.

The good news for Iroquois County is that the Illinois State Legislature has recently taken steps to prevent the harm of these types of local ordinances. In January 2023, he signed into law legislation establishing statewide zoning standards for renewable energy development, preempting restrictions imposed by Iroquois County government (although Iroquois County’s restrictions Iroquois still remain in force). Time will tell whether this measure will provide renewable energy developers with the legal certainty they need to launch large-scale projects in Iroquois County.

Importantly, our research also revealed other reasons to be optimistic. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides enhanced tax credits for renewable energy development in places considered “energy communities” due to their poor economic performance and high reliance on electricity. extraction and use of fossil fuels as a source of employment. Our analysis confirmed that relatively few energy communities (less than 1 in 5 in total) had adopted restrictive policies on renewable energy development. These results suggest that the enhanced IRA tax program has many potential benefits for diversifying and strengthening their economies.

These results, however, raise an important question: why would so many communities adopt policies that run counter to the well-being of their own citizens?

Our research indicates that in some cases, these orders may reflect good faith misunderstandings about the pros and cons of hosting renewable energy infrastructure.

In many cases, however, they are the result of disinformation efforts aimed at thwarting renewable energy development. For example, our report identifies several campaigns run with material support from the fossil fuel industry or organizations opposed to renewable energy for ideological reasons.

Whatever the explanation, it appears that these restrictions are rarely the result of a well-functioning local democratic process capable of remedying errors or misinformation. Accordingly, our report offers recommendations to strengthen these processes so that authentic community choice is better aligned with a just and clean energy transition. They include better outreach strategies to rural communities from legislators and project developers, greater commitment to using community benefits agreements, and better land management planning in conjunction with infrastructure development. of renewable energies.

The clean energy transition offers the United States a valuable opportunity to build a fairer, stronger, and more inclusive economy. Achieving this goal begins by replacing misguided local opposition with meaningful and lasting local support.

The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The revealerthe Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.

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is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform and a widely recognized expert on regulatory reform.