Alison Bates, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies

Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy in Rural New England

Many New England states are leaders in the clean energy transition, both in creating emissions targets and through renewable portfolio standards. One area of development is in large-scale solar power, incentivized by successive solar development programs and policies. Despite significant successes in the adoption of clean energy, space limitations and land prices tend to drive large-scale solar power into rural communities. Widespread development of natural and agricultural lands in rural areas has provoked community resistance to large-scale solar projects, leading to moratoriums, bylaw changes, litigation, and an uncertain permitting environment detrimental both to solar development and local municipalities. A more sustainable model is necessary to ensure a rapid pace of solar development can be attained over the coming decades – one which maintains the support of rural residents and meets environmental justice goals.

In this project, students will support the data collection and analysis of mixed-methods project that includes qualitative web-based interviews with community members, and a quantitative survey of residents from three rural New England communities. Students will clean raw survey data, organize a database, enter data, build a codebook, code variables, apply weighting to raw data to increase representativeness, and create variables. In addition, students will practice analyzing complex datasets by using descriptive statistics and inference models, and learn how to use these data in conjunction with qualitative coding and analysis. Finally, the students will work with the faculty supervisor to interpret the data and models, examples being multivariate regression, logistic regression and latent class modeling, and work on science communication by writing results for both lay and scientific audiences. The outputs will help rural communities determine locale preferences for solar development, preferred options for financing, ownership, land use, and distribution of benefits, and also support the scientific literature around social acceptance of renewable energy.  

Research Assistants Makaylah Cowan ’22 and Julia Cantor ’23