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IESES / Archives / Energy Policy and Considering the Renewable Energy Footprint

Energy Policy and Considering the Renewable Energy Footprint

With the shift toward renewable energy comes the potential for staggering land use impacts.  Many millions of acres may be converted from its current use to meet demand for electricity and fuel over the next 20 years. Uma Outka, FSU Visiting Law Scholar,  investigated the issue of renewable energy land use.  She finds that, to conservationists' dismay, the more renewable energy we use, the more land we need. Ms. Outka is concerned with two primary questions: What are the implications of renewable energy development for land use and land use law, and how might the land use context inform emerging energy policy?
A solar array as a land use.

Siting power plants and transmission lines is notoriously difficult, and siting for renewable energy generation has proved no exception. As investment in the sector has grown, so has dissatisfaction with existing land-use siting frameworks. This perceived inadequacy has led to a flurry of new siting-related laws and policymaking tailored to large-scale renewable energy infrastructure. So-called NIMBYs opposing renewable projects are derided for hindering the green economy.  While almost reflexively, renewable energy proponents refer to siting these generation facilities as a "trade-off" needed to shrink the carbon footprint, but grow the land use footprint.

This trade-off reflex is counterproductive and is presented often as a false choice that obscures legitimate land use concerns while slowing renewable energy development. Ms. Outka's research proposes that the focus should be on deliberately crafting law that avoids needless compromise when possible. This perspective demands a far greater integration of energy policy and land use law. To date and across the board, siting regulation almost exclusively fixates on site-specific land use - the localized considerations for using a particular land parcel. Although this remains important, it can be shortsighted given the potential quantity of land and the impacts at stake. Accordingly, Ms. Outka argues that cumulative land impacts should be a central consideration in the development and implementation of energy policy.

For more information, see the forthcoming article in the Stanford Environmental Law Journal.  Ms. Outka is an IESES research partner and the research was funded by IESES.  A copy of the original paper can be accessed here.

Uma Outka FSU Visiting Law Scholar


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