Bad News: Right-wing group spreading misinformation to stop solar projects in rural America

It's hard to quantify the effect that Citizens for Responsible Solar is having on local debates over solar development. "But I've sure seen their impact," says Ronald Meyers, director of the Renewable Energy Facility Siting project at Virginia Tech. "It's sowed seeds of alarm and distrust." Credit: Eric Albrecht

By Gillian Ramirez, Alliance Intern from UC San Diego

Just when the renewable energy industry is growing and we need all hands on deck to fight climate change, secretly-funded right-wing Republican groups are battling solar energy projects in rural areas across the country by sharing outright lies and misinformation. Sadly they are winning, according to this exposé by NPR and Floodlight, a nonprofit environmental news organization. Citizens for Responsible Solar is a front group that is playing a leading role in the growing backlash against renewable energy in rural communities across the US.

Started in 2019, this group has helped local groups fighting solar projects in at least 10 states including OH, KY and PA. They were founded near DC, by longtime political operative Susan Ralston who worked in the White House under President George W. Bush. “She tapped conservative insiders to help set up and run Citizens for Responsible Solar. She also consulted with a longtime activist against renewable energy who once defended former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that noise from wind turbines can cause cancer,” according to NPR.

Michael Burger, the executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, highlights how they are an established group fighting against the common cause of opposing renewable energy in rural, local areas. He emphasizes, “What that reflects is the unfortunate politicization of climate change, the politicization of energy, and, unfortunately, the political nature of the energy transition, which is really just a necessary response to an environmental reality.”

The seemingly coincidental pattern of local groups fighting against the same issue and using the same scare tactics is part of their plan. Roger Houser was a victim of this madness, as an offer for his property by a solar company was delayed by a four-year battle against solar development in his county. He stresses, “In small-town politics, you can have a small group of people become very vocal and seem very influential.” 

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