Emergent Land Markets, Valuation, and Coal’s Lessons for Renewable Energy

Authors: Karen Rignall*,
Topics: Energy, Environment, Middle East
Keywords: Renewable energy, North Africa, energy transition
Session Type: Paper

This paper uses the rise of large-scale solar power in North Africa to explore the land tenure implications of renewable energy transition. One widely documented aspect of this transition is its land extensiveness, raising questions about who will be asked to sacrifice what land in order to meet the infrastructure needs for solar energy development. This paper specifically examines emergent land markets—or efforts to prevent these markets from emerging—for solar projects in areas where land had previously not been commoditized. I argue that one of the continuities with incumbent energy regimes is the extent to which land is actually kept out of the market, or the operations of markets kept opaque. This continuity extends to the ways that land is valued, reserves or energy production estimated, and how tax or other government revenues are assessed and collected. I use the case of Appalachia’s declining coal production to theorize a ‘double bind’ for previously uncommoditzed land enlisted for energy transition in Morocco. On the one hand, extending extraction (of sun, fossil fuels, or other minerals) into marginal lands allows political actors to assure low land valuations that have a cascading effect on the revenues received in extraction zones. On the other hand, higher demand for land can have the countervailing effect of pushing up land values, dispossessing marginalized populations. Solar energy in Morocco illustrates the political determinants of how these pressures are resolved, and how Marxian rent theory may explain the role of land in renewable energy transition.

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