By Tony Giunta, PG, Director of Project Development
Over my career in the renewable energy sector, I’ve been to countless public hearings in front of planning boards, zoning boards, and City councils. As I walk around and talk to people before these meetings start, most everyone in the room typically describe themselves as devout “conservationists” and “environmentalists”. They proudly proclaim they want to stop global warming so that they can pass along a better planet to their children and grandchildren. Then the meeting starts and these very same attendees supporting “anything green” transform into opponents staunchly against the development of the proposed renewable energy project in “their” town!
As you listen to public testimony, you often hear stories of how local families have grown accustomed to living beside open fields and wooded lots and how, over the years, they’ve enjoyed hiking, sledding, and walking their dogs – albeit on someone else’s property. And now, because that greedy property owner has the audacity to propose a solar farm, the once cozy relationship between landowner and neighbor quickly falls apart. It’s quite sad to see those who had always pretended to be “good friends” with that property owner get up in public and say things like, “How dare the landowner (who, by proposing a renewable energy project, is actually doing something to combat climate change) take away my rights to continue enjoying open lands just to install silly solar panels!”. And then, the inevitable hypocritical killer line of all time, “I consider myself an environmentalist, but this is ridiculous!”.
The reality is that scenarios like these are no longer an anomaly, they’ve become the norm. Regulatory boards have forgotten that property owners have rights too! Just because locals have become “accustomed” to utilizing someone else’s property for their own pleasure and enjoyment doesn’t mean they get to decide how the actual owner uses it in the future. Or do they?
More often than not, I’m seeing owners’ property rights challenged and renewable energy projects denied. If local residents can’t derail projects via intimidation and aggression towards regulatory boards, they introduce petitions at the ballot box and essentially change laws to stop renewable energy projects.
The bottom line is this. If you “talk the talk” about caring for our environment, then you have to “walk the walk” and support these renewable energy projects. Remember that rallying call, “Think Globally, Act Locally”. Well, now you have an opportunity to make change locally that will have a dramatic, positive global impact. We must support local renewable energy projects and support those landowners who are doing the right thing by allowing their lands to be used to save the planet. If we’re going to leave this world a better place, then we need more clean renewable energy and less hypocrisy!