Can Clean Energy Policy Promote Environmental, Economic, and Social Sustainability?

13 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2018 Last revised: 3 Dec 2018

See all articles by Felix Mormann

Felix Mormann

Texas A&M University School of Law; Stanford Law School

Date Written: July 1, 2018


Two and a half decades of clean energy policymaking focused primarily on environmental and economic sustainability have yielded considerable environmental and economic benefits. Along the way, however, other policy considerations, such as the social sustainability of the transition to a cleaner, renewably fueled energy economy, have gone largely overlooked. As clean energy technologies continue to gain ever-greater traction in the United States and global energy economies, the social impacts of their enabling policies become more and more salient. Already, ratepayers, taxpayers, and other stakeholders who fear being left behind by the clean energy transition question the “fairness” of today’s renewable energy policies. The underlying discontentment threatens to erode popular support for a key component of United States and global efforts to successfully mitigate anthropogenic climate change. At the heart of this debate lies the question of whether public policy support for low-carbon renewables prioritizes environmental and economic sustainability at the expense of social sustainability. The goal of this essay is not to question the “if” but rather to explore and, ideally, improve the “how” of the shift toward a less carbon-intensive, renewably-fueled, energy economy. To this end, the author proposes a framework of proxy criteria for testing and, ultimately, enhancing the social and, hence, overall sustainability of policies for the promotion of solar, wind, and other clean energy technologies.

Keywords: renewables, renewable energy, mitigation, social sustainability, climate change, solar, wind, PV, carbon tax, greenhouse gas, RPS, feed-in tariff, electricity, grid stability, policy design, renewable portfolio standard, clean energy, equity

JEL Classification: D40, D62, E60, F01, H30, H51, H60, H70, K23, K32, L10, M13, O10, O32, O38, Q20, Q28, Q40, Q42, Q48

Suggested Citation

Mormann, Felix, Can Clean Energy Policy Promote Environmental, Economic, and Social Sustainability? (July 1, 2018). 33 Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law 343 (2018), Stanford Public Law Working Paper, Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18-50, Available at SSRN:

Felix Mormann (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

Stanford Law School ( email )

Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance
559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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