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Berkeley Lab and its partners have launched a multi-year research initiative called Community-Centered Solar Development (CCSD) to address the lack of information about the impacts of large-scale solar (LSS) on host communities in the United States. The goal of CCSD is to study the perceived and measurable effects of LSS on hosting communities and develop tools to align projects with local needs and values.

The first research task under CCSD involved conducting 54 semi-structured interviews across seven different LSS sites, involving various stakeholders such as local residents, developers, decision-makers, utility representatives, and landowners. The aim was to identify the key factors driving project success or threatened failure and to inform subsequent research tasks.

The key findings from the interviews can be summarized as follows:

Positive and negative drivers of support and opposition: The primary drivers of support and opposition to LSS projects can be categorized into development and planning processes and perceived impacts. The planning process was found to influence project acceptance, with early engagement, clear information dissemination, and opportunities for feedback being crucial for favorable perceptions. Perceived impacts included economic, visual, environmental, and rural-urban tensions.

Inequities and marginalization within hosting communities: Concerns were raised about LSS projects exacerbating inequality, as most economic benefits flow to private landowners rather than the broader community. Tax revenues were often misunderstood or undervalued. Community subscription models were proposed as a way to improve economic equity, but there were concerns that these subscriptions may not benefit the project’s immediate neighbors who experience the greatest impacts.

Strategies for aligning LSS development with local needs and values: Interviewees suggested increasing direct engagement with LSS neighbors and community residents through various means, such as door-to-door canvassing, visualizations, and job training. They also recommended incorporating community engagement criteria into project bids and utilizing tools like community benefit plans and subscriptions. Neutral, third-party intermediaries were seen as valuable for facilitating communication and negotiations between community members and developers. Furthermore, community members were encouraged to take an active role in LSS development through engagement with developers, identifying community leaders, and organizing grassroots efforts.

This case-study research is currently being prepared for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. The next step in the CCSD project involves conducting a large-scale national survey of LSS project neighbors to validate the case study findings on a broader scale. Additionally, LSS mapping and economic impact analyses are being conducted, and community-based LSS visioning workshops are planned for at least six potential LSS communities. The overall aim is to foster mutual benefit and align LSS development with local land-use plans and community needs and values.

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