Conflictive Energy Landscapes: Debating Large-Scale Solar Power in Kittitas County, Washington

Authors: Elvin Delgado*, Central Washington University
Topics: Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology, Landscape
Keywords: renewable energy, solar power, public perceptions, energy landscapes, renewable portfolio standards, zoning codes, land use, energy policy
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Issues surrounding anthropogenic climate change have shaped policy decisions in Washington State to incentivize the development of renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These initiatives have positioned the state as the second highest producer of green power after California. Unfortunately, the development of renewable energy projects has been the source of disagreement among different actors in rural communities. Kittitas County, a rural area in central Washington, have received several proposals to develop large-scale solar projects in prime irrigated farmland. However, county commissioners have placed moratoriums to delay their approval arguing that they do not comply with zoning and land use codes nor align with the community’s views of the rural character of the county. Meanwhile, the state has intervened to evaluate the validity of these arguments and decide the approval of these projects. This scenario provides a suitable case study to explore the socio-environmental implications and political economic context in which renewable energy projects take place. This presentation elucidates the tensions that arise from the incompatibility between the state’s imperative to reduce GHGe by incentivizing the adoption of green technology, private companies’ strategies to capitalize on this opportunity by developing solar projects, and rural communities’ concerns regarding the potential loss of agricultural land and rural character of the region. I argue that the ways in which the state interprets laws and zoning codes concerning landscape characteristics are bounded by its policy goals to achieve GHGe standards at the expense of rural communities such as Kittitas County.

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