Proponents of replacing fossil fuels and nuclear energy with clean renewable energy are hitting some stiff headwinds, and it isn’t from the soon-to-be extinct coal companies, major utilities or Big Oil.
As a recent article in Forbes points out, the stiffest opposition to installing wind turbines and industrial-size solar farms is coming from the people in rural areas who will have to live next to them.
Since 2015, “317 local communities or government entities from Maine to Hawaii … have rejected or restricted wind projects in the U.S.” That — and the “growing hostility” to Big Solar — “are proof that land-use conflicts are the binding constraint on the expansion of renewable energy development in the U.S,” writes Robert Bryce, author of “Not in Our Backyard.”
“Land use battles are occurring in states with some of America’s most ambitious renewable energy goals,” such as California, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, Bryce points out.
The backlash is happening in Virginia as well. In May, Maroon Solar’s proposed 149-megawatt, $200 billion solar farm on agriculturally zoned land in Culpeper County was rejected by both the county’s planning commission and board of supervisors because of intense resident opposition led by Citizens for Responsible Solar.
That same month, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors nixed a plan to build a five-megawatt solar farm on 40 acres along U.S. 17.
In Botetourt County, people who live near the proposed Rocky Forge wind farm project are attempting to stop the plan from both sides of the mountaintop it is supposed to occupy.
Local opposition is largely based on the fact that these large renewable energy projects cause noise, impact health, reduce property values, kill wildlife and despoil rural viewsheds. But rural residents are also righty concerned about what will happen to used wind turbine blades and solar panels when their usefulness is over.
“According to our research, cumulative waste productions will rise far sooner and more sharply than most analysts project,” stated a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. “We see the volume of (solar) waste surpassing that of new installations by the year 2031. By 2035, discarded panels would outweigh new units sold by 2.56 times.” And most of the blades from decommissioned wind turbines are currently being sawed up and dumped in local landfills.
Rural communities are seeing thousands of acres of arable land being converted to energy production. An industrial-sized solar farm, which produces intermittent energy, requires 450 times more land than a nuclear plant, which runs 24/7. And wind turbines take up to 700 times more land than a natural gas well to produce the same amount of electricity. If more rural communities say no to these projects, will government authorities use their eminent domain power to seize their land?
People living in urban areas don’t have to worry that mountains of industrial waste from these facilities will just be abandoned in their communities. Rural residents do.
For example, in Spotsylvania County, sPower refused to post a cash bond or irrevocable letter of credit to protect county taxpayers from the cost of disposing of 1.8 million solar panels containing cadmium telluride and other toxic materials at the end of its solar farm’s useful life. Who’s going to pay for the cleanup if the limited liability company that built the solar facility is not around in 30 years?
That’s why proponents of renewable energy — which includes every member of the Virginia General Assembly who voted for a bill last year requiring Virginia utilities to transition to 100% renewables by 2050 — should give voters some answers to these pressing questions.