Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental and Natural Resources Economics
Environmental & Natural Resource Economics
In this dissertation, I investigate preferences for solar energy and solar siting decisions in the states of Rhode Island (RI) and Massachusetts (MA). There is broad support for solar energy in the United States, but the construction of utility-scale (1 megawatt capacity and above) installations has become controversial in recent years because of the potential local land use externalities that can result. Despite the vast literature on the impacts of various energy-producing infrastructures on areas in their vicinity, surprisingly little research exists on the externalities associated with utility-scale solar arrays within the United States. Estimating the value that people place on solar development will be valuable for informing policy.
In Manuscript 1, I quantify the externalities from nearby solar arrays in MA and RI using the hedonic method and a difference-in-differences, repeat sales identification strategy. I find that property prices for homes lying within 0.6 miles of a solar installation decline between 1.5% and 3.6% post array construction. Results also suggest that this effect is driven by solar developments on farm and forested lands and in rural areas, which is intuitive given the composite impact of loss of open space and loss of rural character. For these states, local disamenities are of the same order of magnitude as the global benefits of abated carbon emissions, which helps explain local opposition to siting.
In Manuscript 2, I complement the revealed preference hedonic analysis of Manuscript 1 with a stated preference analysis to provide further insight into the preferences for the following solar siting attributes: size of installation, visibility, setback distance, probability of future residential development, and current land use. Using data gathered from a survey of 656 respondents in RI, I find that land use is the primary determinant of public approval of solar development. Respondents are willing to pay an additional $10 to $21 in monthly electricity bills for solar development on commercial and brownfield sites, and between $13 and $49 to avoid developments on farm and forested land. Additionally, they prefer installations that are completely hidden from view and are willing to pay between $6 and $8 per month for a solar array to be fully hidden behind a vegetative screen.
In the third and final manuscript, I examine the differences in preferences and willingness to pay (WTP) magnitudes for solar siting attributes in RI between a random sample of the population and a convenience sample of engaged stakeholders. Engaged respondents are recruited from a list of individuals who had registered for a webinar titled "Valuing Siting Options for Solar Energy in RI" that was organized by the University of Rhode Island and advertised on social media in August 2021. The random survey sample used for analysis in Manuscript 2 is comprised of 656 respondents. I find that the preferences of both the engaged and random sample respondents are similar for most attributes. However, there are large differences in WTP magnitudes, with engaged respondents exhibiting WTP values that are two to four times higher than those of the random sample respondents. Although the overall preferences can be said to be representative of the population at large, caution should be exercised when generalizing valuation estimates derived from convenience samples.
Gaur, Vasundhara, "NON-MARKET VALUATION OF UTILITY-SCALE SOLAR ARRAYS" (2021). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 1272.