Transitioning to renewable energy is vital to reduce greenhouse gasses and mitigate climate change. As large-scale renewable energy development expands, more land use conflicts are arising between renewable energy development, ecological conservation, and local communities. Spatial planning methods are becoming more widely used to address such conflicts, however, they often lack local community input and values. In this study, we develop a Participatory Least Conflict Solar Energy Siting Framework based on energy justice theory which uses place-based stakeholder engagement paired with Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) and Geographic Information System (GIS) based multi-criteria decision making. We operationalize a case study in Southwestern Taiwan to identify and evaluate suitable solar development sites and demonstrate how the framework can be used. The results of our AHP surveys show a general consensus that protecting the natural environment is important as the top three prioritized factors: “Avoid Environmental Protected Land”, with a priority of 20.8%, “Avoid Other Important Natural Areas”, with a priority of 11.9%, and “Avoid Other Natural Areas” with a priority of 8.2%. In addition, if only 12% of the land with medium to high suitability are developed for solar energy generation, Tainan City and Chiayi County alone could support the Taiwan government's solar development goal of 20 GW of installed solar capacity for the entire country by 2025. Our study also reveals that the use of participatory methods in site evaluation and final site design is important to ensure true suitability with local ecological, social, and economic systems. This methodology helps to normalize a more holistic multi-goal strategy of solar development that recognizes renewable energy infrastructure as part of a social-ecological-technical systems and Climate Justice. We suggest this framework be used to address the spatial mismatch between national level policy and local implementation that supports place-based renewable energy collocation for energy democracy and community ownership, and develop policy and regulations to support a just transition toward carbon neutrality.
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