Sunblocked: Resistance to Solar in Farm Country

Sunblocked: Resistance to Solar in Farm Country

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

For the U.S. to meet its clean energy goals by 2050, the Department of Energy projects that the country needs more than 10 million acres of solar development. Most of that is expected to be built in rural areas. Surveys show that the vast majority of Americans support renewable energy development, but projects planned in rural areas are meeting major resistance.

Reveal’s Jonathan Jones travels to Copake, New York, in the Hudson River Valley. It’s the site of one of the most contentious fights over a proposed large-scale solar project in the United States. Jones looks at what’s driving support and opposition to the project, Shepherd’s Run.

He starts with Bill and Nancy Rasweiler, the owners of land where the project is slated. For years, the Rasweilers have leased their land to local farmers to help offset the costs of maintaining it, but it’s not enough. So they signed a lease with Chicago-based solar developer Hecate Energy. When they brought their plan to the rest of the town in 2017, they met resistance from other residents. During the same meeting, Copake’s town board passed a new law to severely restrict the size of solar development. Jones finds that these kinds of local restrictions are being passed in rural communities across the country.

Jones learns about the community concerns over the project: that it’s too big, takes over prime farmland and negatively affects the environment and nearby homeowners. Residents who support the project say some concerns are a product of misinformation and Shepherd’s Run is one of the many solar projects that has to happen to slow climate change. With the future of the project in question, Jones hears about a working group – a coalition of supporters and opponents of the project that came together to try to influence its design. Jones follows the group’s efforts and how they landed with Hecate.

Finally, Jones looks at ways agricultural communities are trying to make solar work on their land. This takes him to the Corn Belt, where he looks at how the U.S. is already using millions of acres of farmland to produce a less efficient clean energy source: ethanol. Jones also looks at a landmark agreement between the solar industry and environmental groups convened by Stanford University, which calls for advancing large-scale solar development while championing land conservation and local community interests.

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