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‘Over Our Dead Bodies’: Backlash Builds Against $3 Trillion Clean-Energy Push

Ballooning size of wind and solar projects draws local ire as they march closer to populated areas

By Jennifer Hiller | Photographs by Dominick Williams

The Wall Street Journal May 8, 2023

Note from LucidCatalyst: Our work is cited in this important WSJ article. Our 2022 study of wind ordinances in Iowa "found that 16 of 99 counties had prohibitive ordinances or moratoria against new projects, most of them approved in the previous four years. Accounting for these moratoria and existing setback requirements, approximately half to three-quarters of land with good wind resources would be precluded from project development consideration, according to a study by the nonprofit policy firm ClearPath and consulting group LucidCatalyst."

To put a finer point on the range, the lower bound (47%) reflects existing setback requirements and the upper bound (77%) assumes that all Iowa counties ultimately adopt the most "permissive" setback requirement (i.e., the minimum setback requirement that exists and doesn't significantly impact wind development activity). About a 1/3 of Iowa's 99 counties still don't have set back requirements but they're very likely on the way.


County-by-county battles are raging as wind and solar projects balloon in size, edge closer to cities and encounter mounting pushback in communities from Niagara Falls to the Great Plains and beyond. Projects have slowed. Even in states with a long history of building renewables, developers don’t know if they can get local permits or how long it might take.


The U.S., though, is a patchwork of state and local governments with different rules on development, and opposition to projects has mounted for myriad reasons. Increasingly, many communities are concerned that the rapidly expanding size of wind and solar farms will irreparably alter the complexion of where they live.


In Iowa, which has the second-highest installed wind power capacity in the country after Texas, a 2022 study of wind ordinances found that 16 of 99 counties had prohibitive rules or a ban against new projects, most of them approved in the previous four years. Between moratoriums and requirements for setbacks between turbines and things such as neighboring property lines, roads or buildings, developers won’t even consider projects on around half to three quarters of land with good wind resources, according to a study by the nonprofit research firm ClearPath and consulting group LucidCatalyst.

Despite soaring demand and available capital even before the Inflation Reduction Act was passed, U.S. clean power installations dipped 16% last year and 12% over 2020, according to the American Clean Power Association. It was the worst year for land-based wind installations since 2018.

Many projects will eventually get built, say developers and analysts, but they could take longer and cost more than expected. At the federal level, there is some bipartisan support for speeding up permitting for transmission or pipeline projects, and Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, has relaunched a legislative effort that stalled last year. Some states are pushing back on their own against local roadblocks.


Some opponents don’t like the idea of locally produced energy getting exported out of the state, or that the government is singling out particular technologies for special tax treatment. Other objections are more tangible. Communities often complain about the rhythmic blinking red lights that flash atop turbines at night or the whooshing noise of blades. They also raise concerns about taking farmland out of production or the impact on wildlife.



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