Modern renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and photovoltaic cells are developing rapidly, which raises the risk of conflicts over a range of issues, from aesthetic impacts to rights of access. Although these conflicts arise from the deployment of a new technology, in many cases the underlying nature of the conflict is not novel, and historic cases can help to inform the development of a fair and effective management of these conflicts. This paper draws attention to one particular type of conflict; namely the right to gain or protect access to the energy flux. An examination of historic conflicts and judicial arbitration over the rights to extract useful energy by capturing the wind, water or sun, reveals that it is the nature of the energy capturing technology, the end-use of the energy and the local cultural and infrastructural setting which are key to the determination of local property rights over the flow of air, water or sunlight. Historical examples of wind and watermills, and a historic-contemporary comparison of ‘rights to light’, suggest that renewable energy technologies that are susceptible to multiple conflicts, for example due to the scale of the technology or the directionality of the energy flux across individual property boundaries, could be effectively governed in a more collaborative manner, with laws being both technology specific and locally adaptive.
- property rights