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MIT offers new course that could massively benefit clean energy projects: 'We're not going to give up'

If successful, the course could cut years off the time needed to complete potentially game-changing projects.

If successful, the course could cut years off the time needed to complete potentially game-changing projects.

Photo Credit: MIT

There's a team of trained mediators ready to enter contentious clean energy conversations in communities around the country.  

They are students in a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology class designed to resolve conflicts that are slowing progress on renewable power projects. The problem often isn't funding, as billions of dollars are available, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act.

The challenges are clearing government regulatory boards and easing community concerns about landscape changes, property values, and ironically even the environment. 

MIT's Renewable Energy Clinic puts students on the front lines of the process to bring the powerful projects to fruition, according to the Associated Press. They will work under the guidance of a professional mediator to resolve disagreements so the jobs can be finished before it's too late.

Solar and wind farms are among the common plans under consideration by residents and officials in communities across the country. But unique innovations, including tech that sucks air pollution from the atmosphere and stores it underground, have garnered a $1.2 billion federal investment. 

When faced with these efforts, misconception can often lead community members to say "not in my backyard," MIT professor Larry Susskind, who started the novel course, said in a report from The Energy Mix.  

The MIT mediators intend to bring clean energy developers, government officials, and community members together to form a sensible consensus. The first challenge is a couple of proposed solar farms under fire in Michigan. 

"We're not starting at the beginning," Susskind said in The Energy Mix story. "We're coming in because they are stalled."

An MIT chart indicates that many projects falter at the "community engagement" level, a point that seems crucial to success. Mediation is intended to prevent the process from nose-diving to failure from that mark, indicated by a steady upward line to "construction" on an accompanying chart

The class has about 24 students from various backgrounds. 

"We must find a way to be fair and create equal conditions for all parties," Leyla Uysal, a student from Harvard with an urban planning background, told The Energy Mix. "It's going to be difficult, but I will educate myself not to take sides."

If successful, the course could cut years off the time needed to complete potentially game-changing projects — which could help us to transform our energy system to cleaner sources. 

Walking into the middle of a confrontation is no easy assignment. Fortunately, the students are likely to work on projects in the early planning stages as well, entering the conversation before both sides are entrenched.

"We're not going to give up if we fail the first or second time," Susskind said, per The Energy Mix. "It may be easier to start with a place that isn't already in a battle."

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