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Finding common ground on big solar projects

The U.S. Department of Energy has funded an initiative – built on Stanford Uncommon Dialogue – seeking greater consensus among solar companies, conservation groups, agricultural interests, tribal nations and others in developing large-scale solar projects.

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U.S. energy producers and policymakers are under increasing pressure to dramatically increase supplies of reliable, clean energy to fight climate change. Utility-scale solar energy projects are considered essential in that effort, but their development faces increasing opposition across the country. 

A $2.5 million grant recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to the Solar and Storage Industries Institute (SI2) will empower Stanford scholars and others to test and evaluate innovative community engagement practices used in large-scale solar project siting and permitting. The project builds from the broadly supported Uncommon Dialogue on Large-Scale U.S. Solar Development, convened by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). SI2 will lead the project, with a team of experienced researchers and professionals — funded under the award — at Stanford, TNC, SEIA, the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Kearns & West.  

In partnership with solar Uncommon Dialogue working groups, the project team will identify innovative community engagement practices that will be tested at proposed large-scale solar project sites. Then, the project's research partners will conduct state-of-the-art surveys to evaluate how well these practices shape local support for these utility-scale projects.    The award was one of four made by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office under its Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies 4 (SEEDS 4) program.  (DOE announcement here)

Woods Institute Senior Research Scholar Dan Reicher, who leads the solar Uncommon Dialogue, said the project will play a key role in understanding how solar developers can best work with conservation groups, farmers and ranchers,  tribal nations, environmental justice advocates,  and others to advance solar development that balances the “3Cs” – climate, conservation and community.

“We’ll be using rigorous social science methods to better engage those affected by these projects, in order to understand their concerns and guide the process of siting large-scale solar development,” Reicher said. “By targeting and addressing concerns early, we can speed up solar project  siting and permitting, cut related soft costs, and accelerate the transition to clean energy so critical for addressing climate change.”

Read more about the Uncommon Dialogue on Large-Scale U.S. Solar Development.

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