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NIMBY: Rural Residents Push Back on Large Solar Farms

New York City

Climate Mobilization Act, co-op and condo boards, building carbon emissions, solar farms.

Co-op and condo boards looking for ways to reduce their buildings' carbon emissions keep hearing that switching from fossil fuels to clean electricity is the way to avoid looming fines under the city's Climate Mobilization Act. That advice is built on the assumption that the electric grid will continue to get greener – by relying less on fossil fuels and more on such renewable energy sources as solar, wind and hydroelectric.

Now, The New York Times reports, the push for a greener electric grid is running into stiff headwinds. Hecate Energy, a renewable energy developer, had hoped to install a 500-acre solar farm in Copake, N.Y., a quiet town nestled between the Catskill and Berkshire Mountains. The setting was ideal because of its proximity to an electrical substation, critical to the power transmission. But after facing an outcry from some in the community who feared the installation would mar the bucolic setting, Hecate scaled back its plans.

“We heard loud and clear,” says Diane Sullivan, a Hecate senior vice president. “People felt that the project was too large and they wanted us to shrink it down.” Hecate cut the size of the planned development by more than half – to 245 acres.

The Copake fight mirrors similar battles raging across the country in rural areas from Oregon to Ohio to Texas. As world leaders wrap up a meeting on climate change in Glasgow, developers say industrial-scale solar farms are needed to meet the nation’s goals to mitigate the rise of climate change. But locals in Copake, N.Y., and elsewhere are fighting back against what they see as an encroachment on their pastoral settings, the loss of agricultural land and – no surprise here – a decline in property values.

Until recently, most large solar farms were built in the West, where abundant sunshine powers industrial-scale solar arrays and installations were farther away from sight lines. But now, with federal and state governments, including New York, committing to a reduction in fossil fuels, joined by corporate giants like Amazon and Microsoft, the industry is seeking solar installations in areas where the calculus is more complicated.

In the first half of this year alone, developers installed 5.7 gigawatts of solar capacity, for a total of 108.7 gigawatts of capacity, sufficient to reach 18.9 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That number is only expected to grow, says Sean Gallagher, the group’s vice president for state and regulatory affairs. “Utilities are increasingly interested," he says. "Corporations want to go green, and consumers want them all to be cleaner.”

Well and good. But now a NIMBY movement is growing in the green places where developers want to plant solar farms.

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