Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Feds yet to allow solar projects on public land

Five years after the federal government opened vast stretches of federal land in the southwest for solar energy generation, no electricity has been produced there. "An Associated Press examination of U.S. Bureau of Land Management records and interviews with agency officials shows that the BLM operated a first-come, first-served leasing system that quickly overwhelmed its small staff and enabled companies, regardless of solar industry experience, to squat on land without any real plans to develop it," Jason Dearen reports for AP.

In Nevada, a Goldman Sachs & Co. subsidiary with no solar power background has claims on nearly half the land for which applications have been filed, but has no plans for any of the sites, AP reports. "The Obama administration says it is expediting the most promising projects, with some approvals expected as soon as September," Dearen writes. "And yet, it will be years before the companies begin sending electricity to the Southwest's sprawling, energy-hungry cities." In 2005, Congress mandated BLM approve by 2015, 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands, about enough to fuel five million homes during peak production.

"The Bush administration, however, kept BLM's focus on oil," Dearen writes. "BLM's database of solar applications shows many languished for years while the agency approved more than 73,000 oil and gas leases in the last five years. BLM has yet to give final approval to one solar lease." Two Goldman subsidiaries filed 52 of the 354 applications throughout the region, more than any other company. "Those 52 applications are an example of the problem of clogging up the system," V. John White, executive director of the California-based Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, told AP. "Some of these lease applications tied up more land than would be needed for a real project." (Read more)

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