The political ecology of geothermal development: Green sacrifice zones or energy landscapes of value?

Release date: 2023-03

This contribution explores the potential of large-scale geothermal projects to benefit local communities, a topic about which little is known. We address this gap in the scholarly literature by focusing on Iceland and Kenya, two countries that have pioneered geothermal power generation infrastructure for many decades. While many large-scale renewable energy schemes have ended up as green sacrifice zones, we inquire into whether there are also possibilities for better, locally beneficial energy infrastructures. We explore if such projects can be realized in ways that compensate for losses of land, livelihoods, and ambience. To adequately investigate these issues, we use Iceland as a reference to enrich our understanding of the potentials and possibilities of geothermal production. Against this background, we develop a framework for assessing potential local benefits from geothermal production that we apply to four cases of infrastructure development in Kenya. These cases show that, beyond adverse impacts such as land and livelihood loss, project regions may also benefit from ancillary infrastructures, such as water and roads, and potentially even from direct geothermal use. Based on these findings, we argue that such infrastructure, if carefully planned and implemented, may contribute to what we characterize as energy landscape of value, or environments worth living in.

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