Report: Obama’s solar energy revolution failing to take hold

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Obama administration doesn’t have much to show for its efforts to promote large-scale solar energy development on federal lands.

Since 2009, only 20 solar power plants are on track to being built out of 365 applications to build such plants on federal lands, reports the Los Angeles Times. Only three large-scale facilities have gone online — one in Nevada and two in California. Furthermore, the first federal lands auction for solar developers last fall failed to attract a single bid.

Analysts say that the poor economy has made it tough to get financing for such projects. Uncertainty over whether the federal government will continue to offer lucrative tax credits to large-scale sites has also stymied solar development.

“I would say we are in an assessment period,” Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute, told the LA Times. “Nobody’s going to break ground on any big new solar projects right now — utilities want to see how farms coming online this year fit into the grid, and developers are waiting for more certainty about state policies and federal tax credits.”

Aside from generous tax credits, state laws mandating renewable energy usage forced utilities to pay higher than normal rates for solar power. But now those days are over. As power utilities come closer to meeting their green energy goals they no longer need as much solar power, dampening potential profits for prospective solar developers.

“Generous federal and state incentives and federally guaranteed loans provided investor returns of 15% to 20%,” the LA Times notes.

“Until you know that you are going to build the plant and be able to sell the power, no one is going to get money to build,” Jerry R. Bloom, chairman of the energy practice at Winstong and Strawn, told the LA Times. “No bank would fund it.”

The Obama administration has made herculean efforts to promote renewable energy development on public lands. The administration has opened 20 million acres of federally owned land in the western U.S. to green energy developers. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has even vowed to get 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on federal lands by 2020.

The LA Times reports that taken altogether the three solar projects being built would only produce 870 megawatts.

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