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Nobody bids on solar energy rights on federal lands

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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What if they held an auction but nobody came? The Obama administration’s efforts to auction off more land for renewable energy development got off to a disappointing start on Thursday when no one showed up to bid on solar energy rights on federal lands.

The Bureau of Land Management offered up three land parcels covering 3,700 acres for solar development. Officials said five solar companies were interested in the land, but no one submitted any sealed bids or even bothered to show up to the auction at the agency’s Colorado headquarters.

“We are going to have to regroup and figure out what didn’t work,” Maryanne Kurtinaitis, renewable energy program manager at the BLM’s Colorado office, told the Denver Post. “It is always tough to be the first out of the chute. This is a learning experience.”

The sales were part of a larger Obama administration effort to fast-track the development of renewable energy on federal lands. The BLM has created 19 solar power zones covering 300,000 acres in six western states. Four of those zones are in Colorado, reports the Post.

“It looks like the Obama administration is still trying to sell people things they don’t want,” said Daniel Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.

“It’s probably a good thing that they didn’t get any bidders for this because it means they can’t jam any more expensive electricity onto the grid,” Kish added.

Since 2009, the Obama administration has approved 46 renewable energy projects on federal lands, including 25 solar projects, 10 wind projects and 12 geothermal projects. However, Obama has come under intense criticism for fast-tracking renewable energy projects while scaling back and even stalling oil and natural gas drilling leases.

The Obama administration has only issued half the amount of leases for oil and gas development that the Clinton Administration did and a third less than the George W. Bush administration sold.

Despite the failure of the first bid, environmentalists are still convinced that opening up federal lands to renewable energy development is the right policy.

“We are disappointed not to see any bidders,” Alex Daue, renewable energy coordinator for the Wilderness Society, told the Post. “This is still the right way to plan and guide development so we meet our clean-energy goals.”

The BLM said that solar companies may just lack enough confidence right now to build on federal lands.

The Post reports that the solar parcels for sale had access to transmissions and the minimum bid prices for the parcels started at about $3,350 per acre — which are low prices.

“The administration has spent an inordinate amount of time and effort on renewable energy,” Kish added, “which doesn’t raise any money for the government compared to anything else.”

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