Leasing land for renewable energy: Finance, rent and livelihood in large-scale solar power

Authors: Gareth Bryant*, University of Sydney
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography, Energy
Keywords: renewable energy, finance, land, rent, India
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The transformation of energy systems towards renewable sources depends of the mobilisation of land. Governments and developers often use leasing arrangements to gain access to the land they need for solar and wind projects. In rural contexts, leasing has been presented as an opportunity for farmers, many of whom are facing climate-related stresses, to diversify their income streams. Land leasing for renewables is therefore an important flow of climate finance that shapes the socio-ecological relations of climate mitigation and adaptation. This paper examines the use of land leasing for renewables through a case study of the 2,050MW Pavagada Solar Park in Karnataka, India. We document how long-term fixed price leases negotiated between state authorities and local landowners have underpinned private investment in large-scale solar via ostensibly market-based processes of competitive bidding. We then identify two key challenges arising from the valuation of land in the financial and other terms of the leases. First, the leases under-value the land, meaning that the solar park is not delivering an adequate alternative income stream to farming for landowners. Second, the leases narrowly value the land by excluding consideration of livelihood practices it previously supported, including agricultural labour of landless people who are mostly women and from disadvantaged communities, and the collective identities associated with connections to the land. We conclude by reflecting on the critical role placed by land rent in shaping the extent to which the benefits of renewable energy are real and shared.

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