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Lawyers take a stand for renewable energy » Yale Climate Connections

Lawyers take a stand for renewable energy

A new initiative at Columbia University provides free help to people facing legal obstacles to renewable energy projects.

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Solar panels on roof

Last year, a homeowner in Westchester County, New York, wanted to install solar panels on his roof. But his homeowners’ association told him solar panels were forbidden.

That’s when a group of lawyers stepped in.

Michael Gerrard directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. The center recently launched an initiative that provides free help to people facing legal obstacles to renewable energy projects.

“Local opposition has become a significant impediment to building these new facilities,” he says.

He says some opponents don’t like the way wind and solar projects look or don’t want inconveniences from construction. That can lead to zoning ordinances or policies banning wind and solar.

In the case of the homeowner in Westchester County, Gerrard’s group reviewed the homeowners’ association bylaws and concluded that banning solar panels was not permitted.

Gerrard says not every case will be a win, but it’s important to show that opposition to renewables will not go unchallenged.

“A lot of it is making town boards realize that there’s going to be somebody arguing on the other side,” he says. “We want somebody on the other side who is standing up almost playing the role of the Lorax – ‘I speak for the trees.’ We speak for the climate and we need these facilities.”

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Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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