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Utah Law Review




Solar, wind, and other clean, renewable sources of energy promise to mitigate climate change, enhance energy security, and foster economic growth. But many of the policies in place to promote clean energy today are marred by an uneven distribution of economic opportunities and associated financial burdens. Tax incentives for renewables cost American taxpayers billions of dollars every year, yet the tax code effectively precludes all but the largest banks and most profitable corporations from reaping the benefits of these tax breaks. Other policies, such as renewable portfolio standards that set minimum quota to create demand for renewable electricity require such high levels of market expertise and financial acumen that they engender similarly disparate social impacts—all in the name of an environmentally sustainable energy future.

To date, policymakers and scholars have focused primarily on the efficacy and, more recently, the efficiency of clean energy policy. This Article makes the case that the next generation of policies should incorporate equity as another first-order consideration in policy design and implementation. Properly defined as the commensurate matching of costs and benefits, equity offers a more reliable metric for distributional impacts than the multitude of competing, normatively charged notions of fairness that currently dominate the public discourse.

Empirical assessment and qualitative analysis of today’s leading clean energy policies reveal widespread issues related to equity. Insights gleaned from a representative sampling of the global policy potpourri yield valuable design recommendations for the next generation of clean energy policies—a generation that, ideally, will be at once effective, efficient, and more equitable.

As the greening grid becomes ever more interactive, so, too, should the process that produces the policy landscape driving the clean energy transition become more participatory. This Article suggests Elinor Ostrom’s polycentricity model as a powerful governance tool to help produce more equitable clean energy policies.

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University of Utah College of Law

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