Renewable energy projects delayed in squabble

Renewable energy projects in California are stalled because of a disagreement between Southern California Edison and federal agencies. Stall is keeping state's national parks and forests from using renewable energy 

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    Lightning strikes over a ridge as a storm passes though Death Valley National Park in California in this 2009 file photo. A renewable energy project at the park has been delayed because of a squabble between Southern California Edison and federal agencies.
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A long-running disagreement between federal agencies and Southern California Edison has stalled millions of dollars in renewable energy projects expected to provide power to facilities in California's national parks and forests.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an $800,000 solar project at Death Valley National Park, photovoltaic panels at the visitors center at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and a solar power system at the U.S. Forest Service's facility at Mono Lake are among many taxpayer-funded projects that are stalled while federal agencies try to come to an agreement with Edison to tie the projects to the state's electrical grid.

The impasse involves contract restrictions imposed by federal law. Generally federal agencies are not supposed to sign contracts that would leave them liable for unknown future damages because they would be committing money that Congress hasn't allocated.

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Other utilities in California, however, have signed similar agreements with the agencies with few problems.

"We think we are close at times, but then nothing," said Jack Williams, who retired this month as the National Park Service's Oakland-based regional facilities manager. "We were successful with PG&E, but with Southern California Edison.... They have been a bit more difficult. We've raised the flag many times."

An Edison spokesman declined to discuss the projects because of the ongoing negotiations. The squabble has captured the attention of Gov. Jerry Brown, whose office is sending the governor's advisor onrenewable energy, Michael Picker, to meet with all the parties in coming weeks to help hammer out differences.

The situation has made it difficult for the parks to meet renewable energy goals at a time when federal agencies are trying to comply with orders to reduce carbon footprints. Moreover, a projected saving of tens of thousands of dollars from utility bills hasn't been realized as the park service and forest service continue to negotiate with the utility.

Parks officials at Death Valley had hoped the newly renovated visitors center would reduce their energy costs by 70 percent. At the Santa Monica Mountains, a solar plant designed has been offline since October 2010.

"It is disappointing to see this big investment sitting idle when we could easily flip the switch and produce benefits," said park superintendent Woody Smeck."We are purchasing electricity from SCE, whereas we could be using renewable energy from the sun and returning power to the grid."

Death Valley National Park superintendent Sarah L. Craighead said their solar projects have been unplugged for more than two years.

"We have been trying to get these agreements in place for quite some time. Everything is just sitting in the queue," she said. "We want to turn these things on."

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