Why Renewable Energy Developers Must Win Community Support

140px-Windmills_D1-D4_(Thornton_Bank)Renewable energy is desperately needed to combat climate change, and communities should support developers of solar and wind energy projects. However, the acronym NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) still expresses well the sentiment of some folks. Take a recent Los Angeles Superior Court case, for example. The Tesoro del Valle Master Homeowners Association (HOA), a 1,100 home community, sued a neighbor who had installed 300 square feet of solar panels “close to a sidewalk.” The jury ruled against the homeowner.

The HOA denied the homeowners application to install the solar panels, and several requests were made to “cease and desist,” according to a press release by the Greenberg Glusker, the legal firm representing the HOA. The release also stated that the HOA allowed other members of the community to install solar panels, but the offending homeowner’s “installation was rejected for reasons of safety and aesthetics.”

“This verdict is a vindication of the right of homeowners associations to protect the communities they manage and to balance the need for renewable energy with the integrity of their communities,” said Greenberg Glusker lawyer, Ricardo P. Cestero.

“Disputes involving solar panels and ‘greening’ measures are an area that HOAs and the courts are increasingly required to address in Southern California,” said Lee A. Dresie, who chairs Greenberg Glusker’s Litigation Group. “This verdict is an important victory for our client and underscores the importance of expert and experienced counsel in conflicts between HOAs and homeowners.”

Problems Extend Beyond Residential Concerns

The Mojave Desert’s abundance of sunshine makes it the ideal place for a solar energy project. However, the 400 megawatt, 4,000 acre project proposed by BrightSource has some conservationists worried about its effects on rare bat, bird, and reptile species. The project is one of 130 renewable energy project applications on over a million acres of public land the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and California Energy Commission is reviewing. The project could break ground next year.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said the Mojave Desert project “should not go forward.” He added, “Obviously, there is a lot of political pressure to get this project expedited and under construction. But its impacts in San Bernardino County and sensitive and scenic Mojave Desert environment are not worth the benefits.”

Mitzfelt said he would “do everything” to promote a solar energy project “that would provide jobs, induce economic investment, and increase the tax base in our county. This is not that project.”

Developers Must Win Support

The British study Beyond Nimbyism puts the onus on developers to win over communities. The lead author, Patrick Devine-Wright of Exeter University, said, “The vast majority of people are in consent for renewable energy technologies.” He added, “If you’ve got a scheme with 125 turbines, why not think about divesting ownership of one of those turbines to the local community so they’ve got a tangible buy-in to the process.”

“We need to develop our renewable resources if we are to address the challenge of climate change, but that development must be carried out in an environmentally responsible way,” said Johanna Wald, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC). “If it is done right, informed environmentalists will, I believe, stand up in support.”

Al Maiorino, founder of the Public Strategy Group Inc. listed several things developers can do to win over public support:

  • Create a supporter database: In other words, know who is for the development and who is against it
  • Send the message: Release a press release once you file an application for the project
  • Band together: Get supporters to rally for the project
Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.