Tortoises, Sunflowers, and Subsidies: Utility-Scale Solar Energy Policy in California and Andalucía
Haas Scholars Research project with Alastair Iles
Solar energy is often proclaimed a solution to climate change, and perhaps its most visible incarnation has been the worldwide development of large-scale solar energy facilities in arid lands. These projects represent a fundamental shift in the land use of these formerly pastoral areas, and thus entail externalities, both environmental and social: endangered species loss (such as the high-profile desert tortoise), habitat degradation, and labor market transformation (such as the displacement of sunflower farmers), amongst others. State-led energy policy has facilitated the rise of this industry, by means of subsidies, expedited environmental review processes, and renewable energy mandates. This senior thesis project seeks to understand the commonalities between U.S. and Spanish policy in this arena, using the cases of the California Desert Conservation Area and el Paisaje Protegido del Guadiamar, in the southwest of Andalucía. Using analyses of policy, law, economic data, environmental impact statements, field interviews, and other primary source material, this paper will examine the policy regimes which have driven subsidy-based development for utility-scale solar energy. A critical evaluation of these policy regimes, and their outcomes on the ground, may suggest a more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable way forward.
Alastair Iles Lab