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Poll: Broad support for wind, solar farms, despite local backlash

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Mike Moen

(Minnesota News Connection) As more renewable energy projects surface in the United States, a new poll suggested most Americans are comfortable having them around.

As projects are developed, localized opposition can still be a factor. The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found 75 percent of Americans wouldn't take issue with a solar farm being built in their community, with a similar result for wind farms.

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Josh Hohn, senior planner for the consulting firm Stantec, said it indicates a growing acceptance of what needs to be done to respond to climate change. But he said at the local level, land-use decisions can get the attention of the community.

"Certainly, there's an opportunity. There's a financial incentive to have them," Hohn pointed out. "But every project has a tradeoff, especially in terms of aesthetics and the idea of community character, which I think is at the heart of a lot of opposition, or at least, in terms of the rhetoric."

Hohn advised local leaders and developers need to be transparent right away about the scope of a project. He suggested it can help overcome backlash that sometimes can be clouded by misinformation. A study this year from Columbia Law School found at least 228 local restrictions across 35 states, designed to limit such development.

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Hohn also pointed out stakeholders can do a good job in selling projects by appealing to landowners and explaining how the incentives prevent surrounding communities from losing their economic base and identity. 

"There are many communities and many deals being made across the country that are really benefiting individual property owners, farms, to stay in the hands of the families who have had them for generations," Hohn explained. "There's a legacy to that."

He added a careful approach is especially important right now as more federal support comes on board, potentially spurring development at a quicker pace. The poll found broad backing of projects among Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as people living in both urban and rural settings.