Socioeconomic Impact Analysis

This section of the research investigates the socioeconomic effects of utility-scale solar facilities proposed for the California desert. Limited research has been conducted on this topic;1 thus, we used a range of methods and data sources to predict the social and economic impacts of solar development:

  • A literature review of the socioeconomic impacts of other energy developments- oil and gas and wind energy- and an analysis of how these observations may inform predictions for the impacts of solar development.
  • A case study of the socioeconomic impacts of the utility-scale solar facility Nevada Solar One, a 64 MW solar thermal facility located approximately 15 miles from downtown Boulder City, Nevada. The facility, which came online in 2007, uses solar trough technology and covers approximately 400 acres. Data collection for the case study consisted of eight interviews with individuals familiar with the facility.
  • A summary of government, industry, and non-profit predictions for solar development and job creation.
  • An analysis of demographic data to predict how two California desert communities, Lucerne Valley and El Centro, will be affected by solar development.
  • An analysis of how project location can help influence a facility’s socioeconomic effects.

Based on these analyses, it appears likely that utility-scale solar development in the California desert will have limited long-term socioeconomic impacts. Unlike the findings of our case study of Boulder City, which benefits greatly from solar facility Nevada Solar One’s annual lease payments, communities in the California desert will not receive rent payments; this is because facilities sited on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land will make lease payments directly to the U.S. Treasury. Solar development will also have little effect on employment, as each facility will require relatively few full- time employees once in operation. Construction impacts may be greater in the California desert than they were in Boulder City, though the relative distance from facilities to population centers helps to mitigate impacts on traffic levels and public services.

Nevertheless, there may be impacts from some projects and a full range of potential social impacts (considering the categories of impacts described in this chapter) should be analyzed during the project-level siting process.

1 Pablo de Rio and Mercedes Burguillo, “Assessing the impact of renewable energy deployment on local sustainability: Towards a theoretical framework,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 12 (2008): 1325-1344.