New national survey uncovers residents’ attitudes toward living near large solar farms: ‘Size matters’ – The Cool Down

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According to a new survey, most people living close to large-scale solar parks have a sunny attitude about them. 

As Inside Climate News reported, a 2023 poll released by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, among residents living within 3 miles of large solar plants, positive feelings about the projects outweigh negative ones by nearly 3-to-1.

That’s great news for solar energy companies eyeing land near residential areas to establish new projects, which will help reduce pollution and might cut energy bills for people living near the farms. 

However, some survey respondents disapproved of very large solar projects (over 100 megawatts), with negative attitudes surpassing positive ones by a 12-to-1 margin.

“We’re finding that size matters. Bigger is not always better,” Sarah Mills, a University of Michigan professor on the survey team, told Inside Climate News. 

The outlet explained that while solar energy is expanding rapidly worldwide, many people in rural communities aren’t enthusiastic about the development. 

For example, another article on Inside Climate detailed the worries rural Ohio farmers had about solar farms, citing concerns about loss of farmland and scenery, environmental harm, and falling property values.

The survey findings echoed these sentiments, as respondents said they preferred industrial sites or landfills over productive farmland and forests for future solar projects.

However, many solar developers see rural areas as prime land for building large solar farms because of their flat, wide-open landscapes, which allow ample sunlight to shine on the solar arrays.

Farmers can benefit from allowing solar panels on their lands because they offer shade for crops and farm animals and provide landowners with extra income from selling solar energy.

While solar power has plenty of public support, the survey highlights the need for more research to better understand what influences people’s perceptions of large solar parks.

“Emphasizing only positive or negative attitudes doesn’t tell us much about what aspects of facility siting create difficulties and unfairness for specific groups,” Larry Susskind, an urban and environmental planning professor at MIT and vice chair of the Harvard Law School negotiation program, told Inside Climate News. 

“Unless you dig in and cross-tabulate who has what specific reasons for being positive or negative with their income, location, home ownership, and other demographic variables, you don’t really learn much that can help public policy-makers, community activists or public officials improve the siting process,” he added.

“Understanding the perceptions and attitudes of existing LSS [large-scale solar] neighbors is critical to inform and enable future LSS deployment, and to improve outcomes for those host communities,” the survey authors wrote.

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