Large-Scale Wind and Solar Developers Concerned About Social Factors Affecting Deployment

A New Berkeley Lab survey of large-scale wind and solar project developers highlights industry concerns with the social factors that contribute to project delays and cancellations. 

Large-scale wind and solar deployment are impacted by various technical, economic, and social factors. The social factors, such as community opposition and local ordinances and zoning, in particular remain under examined and are difficult to understand through existing data sources. This study surveyed industry professionals to gather insights from their experiences with project development and community engagement.

Drawing on the responses of 123 professionals of 62 unique development companies, key takeaways from this study are:

  • Approximately one-third of wind and solar siting applications submitted in the last five years were canceled, while about half experience delays of 6 months or more. Both delays and cancellations are slightly more likely for solar than wind. Delays and cancellations most often occur during permitting but can also occur while establishing site control or under construction.
  • Project cancellations result in average sunk costs (expenses spent on the project that could not be recovered) of more than $2 million per project for solar, and $7.5 million for wind. The sunk cost per megawatt (MW) of electric generating capacity is similar.
  • For projects for which developers report delays, these are estimated to cost approximately $200k per MW for both wind and solar.
  • Local ordinances or zoning, grid interconnection, and community opposition are the top three leading causes of project cancellations for both wind and solar. These are also leading causes of significant delays – with the addition of the supply chain as a leading cause of delay for solar.
  • For both wind and solar, opposition is becoming more prevalent and is more expensive to address than it was five years ago. Developers expect this trend to continue, becoming even more prevalent in the next five years.
  • In general, developers believe that community engagement addresses community concerns and decreases opposition. Most agree that:
  • Increased engagement results in fewer project cancellations (75%),
  • Local concerns are adequately addressed before project construction (66%).
  • Typically, developers initiate community engagement after securing site control for a project. 
  • Most developers (77%) believe the most appropriate way to engage members of the public in decisions about project development is that the public should provide input, but not recommend or make decisions about projects. 
  • Approximately 12% of respondents report their companies are now pursuing more solar because of concerns about community opposition to wind. However, many note that increasingly the development concerns with both technologies are similar. Large solar projects increasingly lead to more trade-offs with current agricultural uses. Wind projects can also require more landowners, which can result in greater spread of benefits and create a stronger support base.

This work significantly advances our understanding of the industry trends and expectations with respect to social factors of deployment, but it is important to note it is based on reported experiences and perspectives of 123 individuals and therefore may not fully represent the industry as a whole. We hope to continue to examine these issues in the future with additional sources of data and perspectives of other stakeholders, such as policy makers and project neighbors.

We thank the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office for their support of this work and the numerous individuals and organizations who generously provided data and reviewed our study.