A collective problem requires collective solutions.

By Matthew J. Haugen, Terrain

In 2020, only 4.7% of US energy consumption came from wind, solar, or geothermal sources, which means that we need a lot more renewable energy capacity (alongside electrification, demand reduction, and shutting down fossil fuel production). This will require more land use than our current energy system. Estimates vary on exactly how much, which will depend on variables like the amount of energy we end up deciding to produce, grid integration, technology, and how we deploy the generation infrastructure.

solar panels

Right now, one of the most significant barriers to installing more renewable energy capacity is siting. Myriad federal, state, and local laws dictate where renewables can be placed. A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study concluded that setback requirements—how far turbines must be from certain structures—are “the largest siting barrier to wind deployment.” Local opposition has stalled or stopped many proposed projects and has often been backed by fossil fuel interests. Residents’ stated concerns vary widely from place to place, including ecological damage, unsightly views, lowered property values, noise, and health and safety. Some of these concerns are more valid than others, to put it mildly; corporate astroturf campaigns and Facebook-driven misinformation often muddy the waters.

Transitioning to a sustainable energy system will also require upgrading our aging and decrepit energy infrastructure and building out more electricity transmission capacity to both connect renewables to our grids and connect our grids to each other. Another NREL study found that creating a national “supergrid” via modernization and interconnection would accelerate solar and wind adoption, eliminate 35 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, and save consumers $3.6 billion per year. This would prevent situations like last year’s deadly winter power outages in Texas and mitigate the intermittency issues with renewable energy. Unfortunately, attempts to build much-needed new transmission lines have also been seriously hindered by local opposition, especially by the wealthy.

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