Just as things were really heating up in the solar energy sector, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pulled the plug on new solar power plants. Last week the New York Times reported that “the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.” Headlines like world’s largest solar array in California or world’s largest solar power plant in the Mojave desert promised to be few and far between as the BLM decided to take its time to assess the more than 130 proposals filed by solar companies in the past three years. Just days later, after an uproar of voiced concern, the moratorium was reversed. Not fast enough to avoid drops in stocks, but quick enough to avoid fatally derailing the renewable energy sector off the tracks.
While we are focused on the future forward designs that are changing our world, and this technically isn’t design news, we couldn’t help but pay attention to the policy news. There is an obvious connection between green building and policy that has rippling effects throughout the design world. We usually focus more on the end result, the great green gadgets and structures that hold the potential to make good use of larger concepts. But even at the smaller end of things, this policy faux pax had the potential to trip things up; not to mention severely impact the presence of renewable energy in the US electric grid.
The argument that the BLM should assess the environmental impact of super solar plants on desert flora and fauna is certainly valid, as there is a need to take care when developing wild lands for energy production. But most of us are well aware that this type of action is not universally applied to other energy industries. It was also suspect since the news arrived just a month or so after a new report from the Prometheus Institute projected that the cost of solar panels could be expected to plummet, meaning harvesting renewable energy would become cost-competitive.
When this news hit it was, in no uncertain terms, a setback that could’ve undermined the efforts to make solar power mainstream. Rather than embrace the renewable energy market by diverting resources into smart development, the U.S. had made an unnecessary obstacle.
But, today, on America’s Independence Day, we seem to be back on track. BLM director James Caswell issued a statement saying, “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 source, while ensuring environmental protections.”
Disaster averted, enjoy the holiday.