Wednesday, July 2, 2008

About that U.S. solar freeze, uh nevermind


Looks like the Bureau of Land Management didn’t like all the public outcry over their moratorium on new solar projects built on public land. (A prominent New York Times article can have that effect). The Bureau said today that it has reversed that previous decision, and it actually will now continue to accept new applications for solar projects.

The Bureau is still calling for that environmental impact report, but will continue to process and review new applications, in addition to the 125 solar applications that it has already received. The Bureau’s Director James Caswell said in the release:

“We heard the concerns expressed during the scoping period about waiting to consider new applications, and we are taking action. By continuing to accept and process new applications for solar energy projects, we will aggressively help meet growing interest in renewable energy sources, while ensuring environmental protections.”

Maybe the Bureau is getting a boost to its billion dollar annual budget for some more application-processing hands. Solar heavyweights that expressed frustration over the freeze, like Ausra and Solel, will be pleased with the reversal. Update: Kevin Swartz, President of Solel USA, says the decision: “is great news for the solar industry,” and “allows the industry to move ahead while maintaining a rigorous focus on environmental issues.”

Other solar companies like BrightSource that were hoping the moratorium would help with a clog in the permit system, will likely be disappointed over the decision. Update: BrightSource emailed us this morning to add their official comments. The company says it is actually pleased with the decision to end the moratorium and did not officially support the freeze, and will also work with the industry to help develop a better planning process:

When the Bureau of Land Management announced its proposed moratorium, we worked closely with other solar companies and fully joined in all of the industry’s efforts to have it reversed. We did not support the previously proposed moratorium, and are now very pleased with BLM’s decision to continue to accept and process new applications for solar energy projects. We will continue our work with other solar companies to help develop balanced, appropriate land use planning approaches that will allow our industry to supply the environmentally responsible energy that is so greatly needed.

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