Toward an Urban Political Ecology of Energy Justice: The Case of Rooftop Solar in Tucson, AZ
AuthorFranklin, Remington Santiago
electric utility regulation
urban political ecology
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractA central challenge of the twenty-first century is to transition to a low-carbon energy system to reduce the risks of climate change. For Pima County, Arizona, where electricity accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, this requires rapid deployment of grid-tied renewable energy resources. In light of this challenge, photovoltaic solar has emerged as an important solution, providing the top source of new US electric generating capacity installed in 2016. However, there is still no consensus about the optimal scale for solar (centralized power plants, or small, decentralized systems) and the socio-economic implications for low income households. This thesis explores the implications of rooftop solar for energy justice through empirical research about a southern Arizona electric utility rate case. Utilities argue that existing rate structures shift costs from solar owners to lower-income ratepayers, while critics say the utility's proposed rate changes are unjust and that rooftop solar benefits all ratepayers. Drawing on my empirical data and an urban political ecology (UPE) approach, I analyze competing narratives that speak to three types of justice: distributive, procedural, and recognition. While dominant justice claims revolve around the distribution of costs through rates, competing narratives emphasize procedural and recognition (in)justice. Focusing on political economy, power relations, and the materiality of the grid, I reframe the utility’s cost shift argument as a strategic narrative and explain why this justice claim is ultimately validated. I propose that UPE can further an energy justice analysis by understanding procedural and recognition injustice as systemic products of rate of return regulation and the material configuration of the electric grid.
Degree ProgramGraduate College