Research & Commentary: Report Details the Local Pushback Against Renewable Energy Projects

Published May 28, 2021

The Center of the American Experiment (CAE), a think tank located in Golden Valley, Minnesota, released a new report in late April detailing how concerned residents in rural states, and rural areas in more densely populated states along the coasts, are fighting back against large-scale renewable energy projects like wind farms and seeking to block these projects from their municipalities.

The report, Not in Our Backyard, was authored by Robert Bryce, a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

The report begins by noting renewable energy sources like wind and solar are extremely popular in the abstract, and this popularity helps bureaucrats and legislators advocate for the expansion of these sources. The Green New Deal, for example, would push for 100 percent renewable-powered electricity generation by 2030, while the Biden Administration’s “Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Standard” seeks the addition of “millions of solar panels — including utility-scale, rooftop and community solar systems — and tens of thousands of wind turbines,” across the United States. According to Bryce, the solar and wind industries will have received over $140 billion in total federal tax incentives from 2010 through 2029.

However, Bryce details that the ambitious goals for expanding renewable energy generation in these plans may never come to fruition over massive land use concerns. He highlights, in particular, a scenario finding from a study released in December 2020 by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University showing that getting to “net-zero emissions” by the midpoint of this century would necessitate converting 228,000 square miles of territory into either solar or wind farms. This, Bryce notes, would be the equivalent of covering the entire states of California and Washington with solar panels and windmills.

As Bryce lays out, there has been significant pushback across the country to these large-scale projects due to health concerns from noise pollution, the loss of property value, tourism losses, concerns over harms to wildlife, and in order to protect view sheds. In conjunction with the release of the report, Bryce and CAE have also launched the National Renewable Energy Rejection Database, listing over 300 governmental entities that have either restricted or outright rejected wind energy projects since 2015. These entities come from 31 different states spread across every region of the country, including states that heavily subsidize and promote renewable energy projects. (The 31 states are Alabama, California, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, and Wisconsin.)

“Lots of people like the idea of renewable energy,” Bryce told Environment & Climate News,  “but very few people want to live near, or see, 500- or 600-foot-high wind turbines. And who can blame them? No one wants to sit on their porch after a long day at work, and see forests of giant spinning machines with their red-blinking lights all night, every night, for the rest of their lives. The negative health impacts that can be caused by wind turbine noise are real. And the refusal by major media outlets to cover the problem is scandalous. The lack of coverage is indicative of how the popular narrative about ‘clean’ energy has come to dominate discussions about climate change and what we should do about it.”

“Rural communities in the Midwest are looking for a champion against these large industrial energy projects,” said Isaac Orr, a policy fellow at CAE. “Our organization has received numerous calls and emails asking for hundreds of copies of Robert’s report, and asking how they can also organize against these projects. I have personally talked to people who left their home in Wisconsin due to having industrial wind turbines nearby when I worked in the Wisconsin state senate in 2011. They’re not kooks or conspiracy theorists, they are real people who are being negatively affected by these installations.” 

Bryce puts forward numerous ways in which municipalities are trying to block or limit these projects, whether by more straightforward methods like regulating noise limits and turbine height and requiring minimum setbacks from buildings and dissenting landowners, or by more creative methods such as Minnesotans grouping together to sell wind rights to conservation holding companies or a county in Michigan building a series of heliports because turbines cannot be built near heliports for safety reasons.

Bryce ends by urging policymakers to end tax incentives for wind and solar energy companies, to stop ignoring the numerous documented adverse health impacts of wind turbine noise pollution, and, if the goal is to seriously reduce carbon dioxide emissions, to consider increasing the use of nuclear energy and natural gas in our electricity portfolio, which are much more scalable and have a far smaller land-use footprint than wind and solar.

“Paving rural America with renewable energy infrastructure won’t solve climate change,” Bryce concludes in the report. “It will, however, cost trillions of dollars, create visual blight on landscapes across the country, kill untold numbers of bats and birds, cause more negative human health impacts, and lead to more economic pain in rural America. This paper shows that land-use conflicts will prevent any wholesale effort to convert the domestic economy to renewables.”

The following documents provide more information about “renewable” energy sources and fossil fuels.

Not In Our Backyard
This new report from the Center for the American Experiment details the growing opposition to wind and solar projects in rural America, with government units from Maine to Hawaii restricting the development of these energy resources.

Policy Brief: Protecting the Environment from the Green New Deal
This Heartland Policy Brief by Paul Driessen, policy advisor to the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, reviews the largely ignored environmental damage that would result from the expanded use of renewable energy mandated under the Green New Deal.

The 100 Percent Renewable Energy Myth
This Policy Brief from the Institute for Energy Research argues that a countrywide 100 percent renewable plan would put the U.S. economy in jeopardy. The brief investigates the intermittency, land requirements, capacity factors, and cost of transition and construction materials that limit the ability of the U.S. to adapt to 100 percent renewable energy.

Legislating Energy Poverty: A Case Study of How California’s and New York’s Climate Change Policies Are Increasing Energy Costs and Hurting the Economy
This analysis from Wayne Winegarden of the Pacific Research Institute shows the big government approach to fighting climate change taken by California and New York hits working class and minority communities the hardest. The paper reviews the impact of global warming policies adopted in California and New York, such as unrealistic renewable energy goals, strict low carbon fuel standards, and costly subsidies for buying higher-priced electric cars and installing solar panels. The report finds that, collectively, these expensive and burdensome policies are dramatically increasing the energy burdens of their respective state residents.

Less Carbon, Higher Prices: How California’s Climate Policies Affect Lower-Income Residents
This study from Jonathan Lesser of the Manhattan Institute argues California’s clean power regulations, including the state’s renewable power mandate, is a regressive tax that harms impoverished Californians more than any other group.

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers—summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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