Renewable energy needs to come home. For as much discussion there is about bringing renewable energy to grid-scale and addressing our national climate issues, there is certainly a disconnect on where those decisions matter most; the communities looking to build and maintain those energy facilities.
It’s more exciting to think about how renewable energy as a national movement, where the sum of many parts begins to play a decisive role in addressing our outsized carbon footprint in a nation admittedly struggling with its energy transition. While Asia and Europe have made strong commitments and laid down a solid foundation for renewables like solar and wind, we’ve remained, in many ways, non-committal. There are certainly many reasons for this, including politics, economics, and, frankly, other priorities
But one factor is the process. There’s no doubt about the greater good; the US ranks second in the world in carbon emissions, behind only China. We produce over 16 tons of carbon per person, one of the highest in the world. That global responsibility, however, can get lost in red tape, local bureaucracy, and other regional interests.
To build anything in the US, companies must ask, and answer, a lot of questions. Perhaps nothing is as heavily permitted, restricted, and zoned as energy production, with firms looking to add renewable energy to a community forced to deal with multiple townships, counties, cities, environmental boards, and state agencies to receive the appropriate committees. The result is countless redundant meetings, stops and starts, and lost time; it can often take years for a facility to get the approvals necessary and even begin construction. That limits the size of operations and hurts competition in an industry that needs more firms to drive change.
One of the solutions to accelerate this process and make every element of the decision-making process is to form a number of regional or district committees tasked solely with addressing renewable energy. These bodies could do things like require or waive procedural studies, enforce and receiver environmental requirements, create fixed taxation and fee structures, and work with local boards to approve projects more quickly.
While no one is advocating rushed solutions, time is an issue. Many states have passed legislation setting ambitious goals to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions, many over the next ten to fifteen years. Others have pushed to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels along the same timeline; perhaps the most ambitious plan belongs to New York, where the plan is to get to 70% renewable energy by 2030.
New York is an excellent case study on this topic beyond its goals. Experts in the state say there is a backlog of proposed and pending projects that need approval by a mixture of local and state bodies, slowing construction and, ultimately, the state’s admirable push to get sustainable. It’s a fascinating look at how legislation dictates progress, but also how quickly the same issues could be simply rewritten to make for a smart, thorough, but efficient process to approve or deny new green energy efforts.
Every community has its challenges, but renewable energy is at least part of the answer for many. We want to know more about the energy issues in your community; how can we help?