The Empire Strikes Back: Killing Solar Power In The US  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

While I usually figure its best just ignoring governments and getting on with fixing our problems ourselves, sometimes governments can actively work to prevent the required changes - with the US government doing its best to try to kill off large scale solar power to keep its owners in the oil, coal and nuclear industries happy.

The Bush administration has put a moratorium on new solar projects on public land pending large-scale study of their environmental impacts, a process which could take about two years. Since 2005, over 130 solar-plant proposals have been filed for large-scale solar projects that together would cover some 1 million acres of BLM land, if approved. Officials at the Interior Department have said that temporarily halting the cascade of solar power projects will give them time to develop criteria to apply to future projects, thereby potentially speeding the permitting process down the road. Many in the solar industry are incensed about the sudden solar-project stoppage, which, together with the unsure future of the renewable-energy tax credit, could slow industry growth. "It doesn't make any sense," said a solar-company exec. In contrast, the leasing process for oil and gas development on public lands has sped up significantly in recent years, with the number of permits now far outpacing the industry's drilling capacity.

Cleanbeta shows the affected tracts of land - The Heartbreaking Demise of Southwestern Solar Power.
The Bureau of Land Management said it will suspend all new solar energy projects on federal land for the next two years until it completes an environmental impact review. As discussed briefly in the preceding post, the BLM holds the country’s most valuable sites in terms of solar energy potential, which are heavily concentrated in the southwest. The federal government owns roughly 650 million acres of land - nearly 30% of its total territory. The vast majority of those lands are located in the Western states and the vast majority of federal lands in the Western states are owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM’s drastic decision to suspend solar power projects on federal lands will derail the still embryonic industry at a critical phase of growth. More specifically, the moratorium will sabotage a concerted efforts by the Western Governor’s Association to bring 4,000 MW of distributed solar energy online by 2015. In a document attached below, the WGA summarized their goal in these terms:
Conclusion: Distributed Solar Can Contribute 4,000 MW of Generation and 2GWth of Solar Thermal Power by 2015 — With these programs implemented throughout the region over the next few years, we estimate that distributed PV solar can contribute 4,000 MW of the Governor’s objective of 30,000 MW of clean, diversified energy. In addition, 500,000 solar thermal systems could be installed, providing the equivalent of 2GWth of energy and saving 15 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year.

The investment money, political support and high energy prices needed to introduce a massive change like distributed solar energy is available now but might not be in two years. The BLM controls both key transmission lines that will effectively keep solar off the grid until the moratorium expires. In addition, the sheer volume of land owned by the BLM means that the solar power projects needed to meet the 4,000 MW target won’t be available. Currently, the American southwest is the only place where the U.S. can realistically sustain a solar energy on a mass scale. By barring its emergence, the BLM might have struck the industry with a lethal blow today.

Dave Roberts at Grist labels this "How to strangle an industry, the concern troll way".

Oh, now they care about careful environmental assessment? Oil and gas development is spreading over the American West like a cancer, but this, this solar stuff ... it's a bridge too far!

So Congress and the feds are going to let the solar investment tax credit lapse and institute a moratorium on deployment in the best solar states -- two body blows to an nascent clean energy industry. That is some crackerjack energy policy.

(Incidentally, it strikes me that this could actually advantage eSolar over its competitors, since it can build smaller plants on marginal land.)


Maybe they are also making the "hard decisions" in the best interests of Americas "working families", and not those elite solar socialists!

Surely they aren't just being deliberately obstinately destructively obstructionist, are they? hopping here...from indonesia, you have nice blog...:D :D

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