Fellows in the News


Joe Rand

Late last year, Princeton researchers released a major study modeling different ways the U.S. could reduce its net emissions to zero by 2050 — a target that has been advanced by scientists, and countries around the world, as our best hope for limiting the worst effects of climate change. The models were designed to prioritize cost-effectiveness, and the researchers found that the U.S. could in fact achieve net-zero by 2050 without spending much more of our gross domestic product on energy than we do today. But that finding came with several caveats, including the warning that “expansive impacts on landscapes and communities” will have to be “mitigated and managed to secure broad social license.”

Put more bluntly, a lot more Americans are going to have to get on board with having renewable energy infrastructure like wind farms in their neighborhoods. The researchers estimate that we’ll need to devote between 93,000 and 400,000 square miles of land to wind farms in order to meet that net-zero goal. While the wind turbines’ direct footprint would only be about 1 percent of those figures, their visual footprint — the area throughout which you would likely be able to see the turbines — could be as big as Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas combined. The study calls “community opposition to visual and land-use impacts of wind” a “potential bottleneck deserving immediate attention.”


The first thing to understand about community opposition to wind is that it’s not just a matter of NIMBYism, the idea that people might support wind energy in general but selfishly don’t want it in their backyard. “Researchers have looked into that question in particular,” said Joe Rand, a senior scientific engineering associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “and said you know what, there are legitimate reasons why people are concerned. There’s meat and the bones of why there could be opposition.”

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