WASHINGTON – The Obama administration moved Tuesday to boost renewable energy on both coasts, approving onshore solar and wind farms in the West and pushing for offshore wind power in the Atlantic Ocean.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his department has approved a 300-megawatt solar farm on public land in Arizona and a 200-megawatt wind farm in Southern California. The wind farm includes 186 megawatts that would be produced on federal lands.
The projects, southwest of Phoenix and east of San Diego, respectively, are the 24th and 25th renewable energy projects approved on public lands in the past two years, Salazar said, and demonstrate that the administration’s commitment to renewable energy is paying dividends.
“Together, these projects will produce the clean energy equivalent of nearly 18 coal-fired power plants, so what’s happening here is nothing short of a renewable energy revolution,” Salazar said.
The Sonoran Solar Energy Project in Arizona, being developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, will generate enough electricity to power about 90,000 homes. The Tule Wind Project in California, developed by Iberdrola Renewables, the U.S. division of a Spanish energy company, will be able to power about 65,000 homes.
While onshore projects flourish, the administration’s efforts on offshore wind have struggled. Not a single megawatt of wind power is produced offshore.
Last year, Salazar approved the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts after years of federal review, clearing the way for work to begin on the nation’s first offshore wind farm.
On Tuesday, Salazar said officials are moving forward on a massive transmission project that would carry electricity produced at offshore wind farms from Virginia to New Jersey. Internet giant Google and others have pledged up to $5 billion for a network of transmission lines for offshore wind farms.
Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is soliciting interest from developers and seeking public comments on the project, which would involve building high-voltage transmission lines along the Atlantic Coast. The line would enable up to 7,000 megawatts of wind turbine capacity to be delivered to the grid, Salazar said.
The announcement comes a week after New Jersey-based NRG Energy Inc. said it is putting on hold a project that would have created a wind farm off Delaware’s coast.
NRG said it is putting the project on hold because its Bluewater Wind subsidiary has been unable to find an investment partner. The proposed wind farm would have put 49 to 150 turbines about 13 miles off the Delaware coast.
The wind industry suffered another setback on Capitol Hill as Congress failed to extend a production tax credit, and a similar cash grant program for renewable energy, that supporters say has boosted the industry’s strong growth.
A study commissioned by the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group, said failure to extend the tax credit could mean the loss of as many as 37,000 U.S. jobs.
Salazar has urged Congress to extend the wind credit, which expires next year, calling it a lifeline for domestic producers that could save tens of thousands of jobs and bring financial certainty to the renewable industry.
Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, called extension of the cash grant program even more crucial. The so-called 1603 Treasury grant program, approved under the 2009 economic stimulus law, provides cash grants worth 30 percent of costs for renewable projects. The program expires on Dec. 31.
“To keep the industry growing and creating jobs in the U.S., we need Congress to extend the 1603 program,” Resch said, noting that the program has supported more than 22,000 renewable energy projects in 48 states. “The 1603 program has done more to expand the use of renewable energy than any other policy in U.S. history.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has said he plans to take up tax incentives for renewable energy early next year.
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