Obama must advance green energy’s ‘quiet revolution’ — report

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Obama administration must take steps in the coming months to ensure that the unprecedented growth of renewable energy development on public lands continues, according to a report released today by the Center for American Progress.

The report from the liberal think tank, co-authored by David Hayes, a former Interior deputy secretary who is now a visiting senior fellow at CAP, outlines a four-point plan to help continue the push to expand solar, wind and geothermal power regardless of who’s elected president next year.

The goal of the report is to highlight a path forward that advances the “quiet revolution” in renewable energy sparked by the Obama administration, according to a summary, which was also co-authored by Nidhi Thakar, CAP’s deputy director of public lands.

The Obama administration has approved 57 commercial-scale renewable energy projects on federal lands since 2009, including 34 solar, 11 wind and 12 geothermal power plants. If all are built and placed into operation, they will have the capacity to produce roughly 15,000 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 5 million homes and businesses.

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan unveiled in 2013 challenges the Interior Department to approve 20,000 MW of renewable energy on federal tracts by 2020 — a goal Interior says it’s on target to reach.

But this unprecedented push in renewables could go away when the next administration takes office.

Included in CAP’s four-point plan is a recommendation that the Obama administration establish more renewable energy zones, such as the 19 solar energy zones established as part of the Western Solar Plan finalized in 2012 that is designed to guide large-scale projects to areas with low natural resource values.

The recommendation calls for establishing at least 10 new solar energy zones. It also calls for “expanding offshore wind energy zones to cover deeper waters off the coast of Maine and in the Pacific Ocean to facilitate the deployment of floating turbine technology,” as well as “specifying low-conflict wind and geothermal energy zones” on federal lands.

“With the United States emerging as a global leader in the shift to low-carbon fuel sources, and with projections of rapid growth in renewable energy demand over the next several decades, now is the time to assess how the federal government can build on its successful renewable energy programs on America’s public lands,” the report says. “Specifically, how can the Department of the Interior and other federal land management agencies cement recent gains and further accelerate responsible renewable energy development on the nation’s public lands and waters?”

The other points recommend in the report:

  • Institutionalizing programs that have helped better coordinate and streamline the permitting of solar, wind and geothermal projects, as well as the interagency rapid response team for transmission, which prioritized the review and approval of a handful of new transmission lines needed to deliver renewable energy from remote sites to major load centers.
  • Establishing a “new revolving loan fund” that would accelerate “the financing of creditworthy renewable energy projects on public lands and waters that employ proven technologies.”
  • Developing partnerships and pilot projects with local communities to site smaller-scale renewable energy projects on nearby federal lands that the local areas could tap into.

“CAP recommends that the federal land management agencies, including the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, and the Department of Defense, reach out to interested leaders in communities near public lands and work in partnership to prioritize the development of community-based renewable energy projects on public lands that will serve the adjacent communities, as well as local federal needs,” according to the report.

The CAP report comes on the heels of Obama’s speech this week at a clean energy summit in Las Vegas in which he said now is “not the time to pull back” on investments in solar and wind power technology, and promoted renewables development as a way to expand the economy and reduce the impacts of climate change (ClimateWire, Aug. 25).

The administration this week also called for $1 billion in additional federal loan guarantee authority to support distributed clean energy projects aimed at expanding everyday Americans’ access to renewable energy technologies (Greenwire, Aug. 24).

Steps like these, as well as other “innovations and reforms,” will be needed moving forward, the CAP report says.

“The nation’s public lands have played an instrumental role in transitioning America’s energy mix from traditional fossil fuels to clean energy,” the report concludes. “The United States must continue to produce more renewable energy production from its public lands and offshore waters in order to enhance its energy security and energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and continue to pivot toward a clean energy future.”