USA want to expand solar power to government land

BILLINGS, Mont. – US officials on Tuesday announced the approval of two major solar projects in California and decided to open public land in other western states to the potential for solar power development as part of the Biden administration‘s efforts to address climate change to counteract the switch from fossil fuels.

The Department of the Interior approved the Arica and Victory Pass solar projects in the state in Riverside County east of Los Angeles. Together, according to the San Francisco-based developer Clearway Energy, they would generate up to 465 megawatts of electricity, or enough to supply around 132,000 households with electricity. The approval of a third solar park with a capacity of 500 megawatts is expected in the coming days, officials said.

The Home Office also called on Tuesday to nominate land for development within “solar energy zones” in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, which together cover approximately 360 square kilometers.

The invitation to developers comes as officials under Democratic President Joe Biden are promoting renewable wind and solar energy on public land and offshore to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. This is a marked change from Republican President Donald Trump‘s emphasis on coal mining and oil and gas drilling.

Biden suffered a severe blow on his climate agenda this week when West Virginia Democratic Senate opposition Joe Manchin criticized the government’s core climate and social legislation. The government was also forced to resume sales of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and numerous western states after a federal judge on the Republican-led state side was sued when Biden suspended sales.

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Home Secretary Deb Haaland did not go directly into the stalled climate legislation, instead referring to the clean energy provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed last month.

“We fully intend to meet our clean energy goals,” said Haaland. She said the Trump administration blocked clean energy by closing renewable energy offices in the Bureau of Land Management and undermining long-term agreements, such as a conservation plan linked to solar development in the California desert.

“We are rebuilding this capacity,” said Haaland.

But without the climate bill, tax incentives for building large solar panels will drop to 10% of a developer’s total cost of capital by 2024 instead of increasing to 30%, said Xiaojing Sun, senior solar researcher at industry consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Incentives for residential-scale solar panels would be completely phased out by 2024, she said.

“It will significantly slow the growth of solar energy,” said Sun.

However, she added that streamlining access to state could help the industry as large solar farms on non-state land face growing local opposition and cumbersome zoning laws.

The Bureau of Land Management oversees nearly a quarter of a billion acres, mostly in the western states. Agency director Tracy-Stone Manning said promoting renewable energy is now a top priority.

Forty large-scale solar proposals in the west are currently under consideration, she said.

The agency released a draft plan in early December to cut rents and other fees paid by companies authorized to build wind and solar projects on public land. Officials couldn’t estimate how much money the developers could save.

In Nevada, where the federal government owns and manages more than 80% of the land, major solar projects met opposition from environmentalists worried about the harm to plants and animals in the sun- and wind-swept deserts.

Developers abandoned plans for the country’s largest solar array north of Las Vegas earlier this year due to concerns from local residents. Environmentalists are fighting another solar project near the Nevada-California border that they claim could harm birds and desert tortoises.

Stone-Manning said solar projects are being built on public land to address environmental concerns.

The solar development zones were first proposed under the Obama administration, which passed plans in 2012 to bring utility-scale solar energy projects to public land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Officials have identified nearly 3,500 square kilometers of public land for potential solar power leasing.

If all of the land were developed, it could support more than 100 gigawatts of solar power, or enough for 29 million households.

That equates to almost all of the US solar capacity currently available.

The current solar production from federal states is a small fraction of this amount – just over 3 gigawatts, according to federal data.

In November, the Land Office issued solar leases on land in the Milford Flats solar zone, Utah. By the end of the month, the solar leases for about land at several locations in Arizona are to be concluded.

Solar energy on public and private properties accounted for approximately 3% of total US electricity production in 2020. After construction costs have fallen over the past decade, that number is expected to soar to well over 20% by 2050, according to the US Energy Information Administration projects.

Developers warn that costs have risen due to supply bottlenecks in steel, semiconductor chips and other materials.

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Associated Press Writer Sam Metz of Carson City, Nevada contributed to this report.


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