A community solar farm and agrivoltaic research project in Colorado.
A community solar farm and agrivoltaic research project in Colorado. In the Midwest, an Iowa experiment aims to maximize the carbon capture potential of farmland solar sites. Credit: Werner Slocum / NREL

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With massive grid outages drawing more attention to the risks of climate change, the rise of Hot FERC Summer, and a monthslong debate in Congress over cutting emissions, energy and climate issues were prominent in the news throughout 2021.

At the Energy News Network we amplify those important stories in our newsletters, but in our original reporting we remain focused on state and local issues that otherwise might not see news coverage. Some of these stories generate national attention. Others keep a lower profile.  

This week, for our annual year-end list, the editorial team at ENN picked 12 stories from the past year we want to make sure you didn’t overlook.

If you appreciate this coverage, consider making a year-end contribution or subscribing to our daily newsletters — or both!

Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you in 2022!

Blinded by the light: Chicago startup’s technology saves your eyes, and energy too

A Chicago entrepreneur is developing “LCD 2.0” technology that could make small screens easier to read and more efficient: “We can have devices that last multiple days on a battery charge and look great in the bright sun. A lot of people don’t realize this is possible.” (Katie Pyzyk, Centered.tech, Jan. 27)

In Virginia, solar ‘barn raisings’ bring power to families in need

“We’re interested in our local community, not being millionaires:” Volunteers in rural Virginia help to install solar power on Habitat for Humanity homes. (Elizabeth McGowan, March 29)

In Vermont, a new model for migrant farmworker housing

The farmworkers that help put food on our tables not only face difficult working conditions, they also have to resort to housing options that are in poor condition, and even dangerous. A former migrant laborer from Mexico is helping to lead an effort in Vermont to use energy-efficient design principles to develop worker housing that is affordable, comfortable and safe. (David Thill, May 3)

Thousands of abandoned Ohio oil and gas wells may be hidden. Drones could help find them 

In 2015, a newly constructed Ohio elementary school had to be evacuated after a leaking abandoned gas well was discovered under the gym floor. A researcher is using drones to map thousands of orphan wells throughout the state, dating back to the 1800s. (Kathiann Kowalski, May 10)

Electric trucks won’t deliver environmental justice, say warehouse neighbors

While electrification of transportation is critical to fighting climate change, it’s important to remember that tailpipe emissions aren’t the only impact from shipping hubs. (Audrey Henderson, June 14)

‘The big gate key:’ Homeowners associations a top barrier to rooftop solar in North Carolina

While HOA restrictions on solar power are common across the country, this story takes a step further and examines the restrictive covenants’ roots in 1960s housing discrimination. (Elizabeth Ouzts, July 6)

For generations of Illinois coal mining families, risk is part of everyday life

While modernization has generally made coal mining safer, it’s still dangerous work. In a five-part series, we look at the risks that miners still face and the impact it has on their families and communities. (Kari Lydersen, July 12)

From smart meters to big batteries, co-ops emerge as clean grid laboratories 

Rural cooperatives don’t often get credit for leading on the clean energy transition, but their community-based governing structure and small size can make them more nimble than big utilities. (Frank Jossi, Aug. 26)

Iowa experiment tests potential to pair solar with carbon sequestration

Solar power can help farmers make money from otherwise marginal land. Could the plants growing beneath the panels provide another income stream through carbon credits? (Karen Uhlenhuth, Sept. 8)

A Detroit law promised residents a voice in redevelopment projects. Many say their concerns remain unheard  

Detroit city officials are hungry for development, and a 2016 law intended to give communities a more prominent voice in the process. But activists say the policy has holes that prevent it from working as intended. (Rukiya Colvin, Sept. 28)

National Grid looks to test a novel load-shifting technology: Frozen peas 

A New England utility is experimenting with using grocery store freezers as a demand response resource. (Lisa Prevost, Oct. 5)

Massachusetts to test highway barriers that absorb sound and solar energy 

In dense urban areas, solar may soon start popping up in unexpected places. A pilot project on Interstate 95 just outside Boston aims to take advantage of the dead space on freeway sound walls to generate clean energy, (Sarah Shemkus, Nov. 3)

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.