A Solar Farm in My Backyard? Resident Perspectives of Utility-Scale Solar In Eastern North Carolina
The power of the sun is recognized throughout history as one of the significant natural resources we can use here on Earth. Only recently, however, have we as humans managed to convert this resource into usable electricity. The solar energy industry blossomed over the past half-century and continues to be a popular alternative to conventional energy sources in many parts of the world. Areas that receive abundant and consistent sunlight are most common for solar panel installation, and people who live in the regions that receive this sunlight can take advantage of rooftop solar panels. Larger companies invest in utility-scale solar energy production facilities, which often cover many acres and can produce many times the electricity that smaller, rooftop panels can. In this case, some companies may lease land in rural, sparsely populated areas to construct utility-scale solar facilities; these are known as solar farms. This solar farm development has taken hold in North Carolina, particularly in the Eastern part of the state which is historically rural and maintains low land costs. While sparsely populated in comparison with the rest of the state, solar farm development in eastern North Carolina results in some facilities constructed adjacent to homes and neighborhoods. This mixed methods study addresses the factors affecting the perspectives of the people who live next to solar farms, encompassing the following questions, "Are there different aspects that affect resident satisfaction regarding solar farms? If so, to what extent can these different aspects explain variations in satisfaction?", "Are there variations in satisfaction for residents among differing geographic settings, e.g. neighborhoods adjacent to the solar farms or distanced from the solar farms?" and "How can insight from both the utility and planning sectors, combined with knowledge gained from residents, fill gaps in communication and policy writing in regard to solar farms?" Door-to-door surveys and stakeholder interview methods collected responses from 82 individuals (70 from the questionnaire surveys and 12 from the interviews) in several study sites in Eastern North Carolina (four survey sites). These responses were analyzed: open-ended answer input, descriptive statistical analysis, factor analysis, and linear regression analysis. Data analysis involved both qualitative and quantitative analysis. Results showed that overall, residents felt positively regarding the solar farms near their neighborhoods, though there were some concerns. The most consistent and significant factor affecting opinions on the solar farms was Perceived benefits of the solar farm. In all regression models, the effect size of this factor was significant with regression coefficients ranging from .46 to .74. When residents highly value the benefits of solar farms, their satisfaction with living near a solar farm as a result would increase more than any other factors considered. For the neighborhoods that are farther away but still within a one-mile radius, Appeal of the solar farm turned out to be the most significant factor, followed by Income, Perceived benefits of the solar farm, and Education, all with standardized regression coefficients greater than .40. For the neighborhoods that are adjacent to the solar farm, Perceived benefits of the solar farm was the only significant factor. The strength of this factor was the greatest among all three models. Interestingly, Concerns in regard to the solar farm was not significant in any model, which indicates residents' satisfaction with the solar farm has no significant associaton with negative concerns. Interviews with 12 stakeholders in both utility and planning sectors gave understanding to the planning, incorporation and operation process in regard to the solar farms. These individuals noted that while solar energy is developing rapidly in North Carolina, there is not much information given about the farms themselves. This information is difficult to obtain by residents, who raised questions about where the generated electricity goes and who owns each solar farm, which in some cases is less than 200 feet from their home. With the data gained from these interviews, I was able to identify where the holes in information sharing exist and how the planning process may be bettered in the future. Findings from this study lend insight into what shapes opinions of these solar facilities in residential areas in eastern North Carolina. While there were some serious concerns expressed, they did not diminish the general satisfactory opinions of the solar farms. This study also revealed background planning processes and showed where there are gaps between the local governments, solar development companies and residents. Given the most consistent concern about information dissemination, rural planning policies may be drawn for more transparent communication and more readily available information about the solar farms between the private companies, local governments, and the general populace. Overall, the perceived benefits of the solar farms being the most significant factor is a good indicator that they are generally well-received in this area.
Dickerson, Zachary. (July 2018). A Solar Farm in My Backyard? Resident Perspectives of Utility-Scale Solar In Eastern North Carolina (Master's Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/6971.)
Dickerson, Zachary. A Solar Farm in My Backyard? Resident Perspectives of Utility-Scale Solar In Eastern North Carolina. Master's Thesis. East Carolina University, July 2018. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/6971. May 21, 2019.
Dickerson, Zachary, “A Solar Farm in My Backyard? Resident Perspectives of Utility-Scale Solar In Eastern North Carolina” (Master's Thesis., East Carolina University, July 2018).
Dickerson, Zachary. A Solar Farm in My Backyard? Resident Perspectives of Utility-Scale Solar In Eastern North Carolina [Master's Thesis]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; July 2018.
East Carolina University