Tisha’s Insights

The Irony of Renewable Energy

March 27, 2024 Tisha Schuller

Climate hawks argue that nothing must stop the significant expansion of utility-scale renewables, particularly wind and solar generation. So I was fascinated by a recent USA Today analysis containing the following shocker: Renewable energy projects are being banned across the country by local governments. What could this trend mean for the state of energy-and-climate political polarization? For pragmatic progress on reducing emissions?

I’m not going to give you the takeaway you expect. You expect me to say, “Permitting infrastructure is hard. Seize the opportunity to create new a kind of conversation.” You know me so well!

Here’s my message instead: These bans give you and your companies an edge. Use it.

Both of these things are true:

  • Local governments across the United States are banning renewable energy more often than they’re allowing it to be built.
  • Oil and gas companies are ahead of the infrastructure opposition curve—they have experience getting tricky energy projects done.

The situation

According to the USA Today analysis, local governments across the country have been saying no to renewable energy projects at a blistering pace—placing construction impediments, moratoriums, and outright bans on wind and solar development projects. While 183 counties got their first commercial wind power projects in the past decade, nearly 375 counties blocked new wind development in the same period.  In a few cases, states (such as Connecticut, Tennessee, and Vermont) have implemented near-statewide bans on wind development. The analysis also concluded that counties that have never had a wind project but are near counties that have are more likely to block new projects. For solar, the number of counties blocking new projects was almost equal to the number of counties adding their first solar farms. 

The result: At least 15 percent of U.S. counties have halted new utility-scale wind or solar projects (or both). Renewables advocates say these bans take some of the nation’s best sources of wind and solar off the table.

Yes, objections to renewable energy projects come from all political perspectives and will evidently fuel (pun intended!) a wider-ranging discussion around how we can get energy infrastructure projects permitted and built. But my message today: The widespread opposition to renewables has leveled the permitting playing field, daylighting how commonplace obstructing any energy infrastructure at all has become. This gives you and your leadership team an opportunity—to understand the ever-changing concerns, alliances, and tactics of project opposition so your company can reinforce and expand its own internal community and policy engagement capacity. Here’s why:

  • Been there, done that? Check. Successful oil and gas companies are exceptionally good at developing large projects. Our leaders have a long history of designing, permitting, and building infrastructure projects at significant scale and have the resources, know-how, and skill sets to do so.
  • Skeptical stakeholders? Check. Skepticism about our project development has become routine, and oil and gas companies have teams experienced in partnering with communities for decades.  Whereas a startup may have no idea how to go into a skeptical community and build rapport and provide enduring impacts, we do!
  • Permitting gantlet? Check. Getting an array of stakeholders to buy in to approvals for overlapping permitting jurisdictions is just another day at the office for us.
  • Bespoke community solution? Check. Political polarization and opposition from stakeholder groups have allowed oil and gas companies to refine and execute community engagement solutions that are tailored to each situation. We know that community engagement is not one-size-fits-all.

Seize the day

Unlike some oil and gas supporters, I’m not reveling in the opposition once-unstoppable renewables are facing. Why not take a victory lap? Because:

  • Opposition isn’t going anywhere. The new alliances and novel approaches that have successfully banned wind and solar projects will be reapplied to your projects. So study what’s happening and what the renewables companies could have done better—and learn from their mistakes.
  • It’s not a great look. Doubling down on polarization—through your participation—isn’t going to build support among mainstream stakeholders, who are exhausted by these battles.
  • We need common ground. We need to unlock a new permitting and building paradigm, where communities say yes to new infrastructure. This will require a shared understanding that we need more energy and more infrastructure. That’s something oil and gas company projects do have in common with the renewables’ efforts.

Thank you to Anna Kieffer for her excellent contributions to this piece. Want to learn more about how to get your project across the finish line? Reach out—Adamantine can help you devise a strategy. Enjoying what you’re reading? Please forward to three colleagues.

To fueling infrastructure, not irony,



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Both of These Things Are True

By Tisha Schuller