The Boom in Solar — and the Backlash Building Against It

Orchestrated anti-solar campaigns are popping up around the country, but support for the projects is broader than it might seem

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Welcome to Climate on the Ballot, the weekly elections email from Covering Climate Now’s editors. Our goal to help you and your newsroom make the climate crisis an integral part of your coverage of this year’s elections — local, state, and national. Every week, we’ll pass along a topic, offer up some advice on how to integrate it into your coverage, and share inspiring work that you and other outlets are doing. 

Lea la versión en español de “El clima en la boleta.”

This Week: Solar

Small-scale solar — most of which is installed on roofs — produced 10 times as much electricity nationwide in 2022 compared to a decade ago, enough to power roughly 5.7 million typical American homes, according to a new report. Yet opposition to community and large-scale solar projects is building — as are disinformation campaigns aimed at undercutting them.

Reporting Ideas

  • Across the US, many mayors, state legislators, and governors — both Democrats and Republicans — strongly support solar projects. Find local projects attracting unexpected support and explore their financial, as well as climate, benefits.
  • Using eminent domain to claim land for new refineries, pipelines, and power stations is a nearly century-old practice. Recent efforts by city councils, legislatures, and governors to use eminent domain to claim land for renewable energy projects have run into NIMBY opposition across the country. Report on the benefits and tradeoffs of this method.
  • Utilities are some of the biggest opponents of community solar projects. Georgia Power, for instance, “adamantly opposed” a bill that would open up community solar to more customers, including renters, claiming concerns over rate shifts and confusion. How are local utilities helping or hindering the energy transition?
  • Right-wing groups against renewable energy are fueling community-level dust-ups over solar farms, particularly in rural areas. These groups often have innocuous names like Citizens for Responsible Solar and spread mis- and disinformation to stir up conflict. Investigate who funds these groups and whether they are local offshoots of a national campaign.

Take Inspiration

  • The Chicago Tribune reports that “Illinois ranked ninth in the nation for small-scale solar growth in a report released this week from the nonprofits Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.”
  • An impressive NBC News special in January included a segment by national climate reporter Chase Cain about how local, state, and tribal authorities in Florida, Texas, and California are installing solar panels along highways, above canals, and in unused public spaces — helping to accelerate the solar boom across the US. (Starts at 3:28.)
  • An NPR/Floodlight investigation found that a longtime Republican insider is stoking solar opposition by spreading bad information about solar projects in rural America.

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