US calls off solar moratorium

The Bureau of Land Management has backed down on its freeze on solar projects on public lands.

Ben Arnoldy / The Christian Science Monitor
Solar panels line the roof of an office building in San Jose, Calif.

Well, that didn't take long. On Sunday I posted an entry about how the Bureau of Land Management placed a two-year moratorium on solar energy projects on public lands, citing – get this – environmental concerns.

Now, following public outcry – no doubt prompted entirely by my blog post – the BLM is backing down. From their press release:

"We heard the concerns expressed during the scoping period about waiting to consider new applications," said BLM Director James Caswell, "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."

The Associated Press notes that, while there are currently no solar facilities on federally administered land, having the opportunity to build them there is thought to be important for the survival of the fledgling solar industry:

BLM has yet to approve a solar project on federal land; the solar projects already built or under way in this country are on private property.

Still, industry officials already impatient about the BLM's pace worried that putting a stop to new applications would allow other industries to lay claim to federal land that could go to solar. They feared it would also send the wrong signal to potential investors just as the solar industry is getting started.
"Hitting the brakes before we'd really gotten off the ground was definitely a scary prospect for the industry," said Katherine Gensler, manager of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The New York Times reports that the BLM has received 130 applications for solar energy projects on land that they administer, but they have yet to approve any of them:

"We’re encouraged that the B.L.M. lifted their moratorium, but we’re only halfway there," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "We now need to get them to expedite the permitting of the solar projects on public land."
Mr. Resch said the decision was important given that while the bureau managed to approve a considerable number of oil and gas leases on public land, it “had yet to lease a single acre of land to the solar industry.”
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