Rentiers of the Green Economy? Placing Rent in Clean Energy Transition

Authors: Sarah Knuth*, Department of Geography, Durham University
Topics: Energy, Economic Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: green economy, clean energy transition, rent, rentierism, financialization
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines two critical frontiers of accumulation and political contestation now emerging within Anglo-American geographies of energy transition: interrelated efforts by financial sector players to extract rent from the monopoly control of utility-scale renewable energy infrastructure, and/or from the financing of such infrastructure development at scale. The paper explores, first, how such neo-rentier extractions are working, and how we might place them within a broader array of infrastructure-linked accumulation and rentiership bids from actors such as private equity firms, yield-starved pension funds, and “tax equity” financing strategies in Anglo-American financial capitalism today – including within an emerging green capitalism (e.g., Knuth 2017, Langley 2018, Christophers 2018). Second, it considers the politics, and potential politics, of such rentier moves within a fast-changing political context – one that has provoked new discussions of re/nationalization and energy developmentalism in a radically restructured energy system. Key questions in this realm include, for example, the share of the surplus of such a transition that capitalist players are permitted by states to extract, as well as how such extractions are enabled through performative narratives of technological/market immaturity and necessary returns to risk-taking financiers and technological “disruptors”. Alternatively, they encompass questions of how to frame rent differently, given ongoing questions about programs such as ‘green collar’ jobs and the benefits of a green economy to the many. How might we place strategies/potential strategies for state rent extraction, progressive taxation, and redistribution and reparation within broader geographies of rentierism and political possibility today?

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