Obama’s New Solar, Wind Push: Super Fast-Track?

If we needed more evidence that the Obama administration thinks utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands are a political winner, we got it on Tuesday.

The White House put out an announcement that the approval process for seven big proposed solar and wind energy projects on public lands in the West “will be expedited.” The administration promised oodles of clean energy – nearly 5,000 megawatts – and said the projects would “drive job creation.”

obama solar power

image via the White House

The odd thing was, these seven projects had been fast-tracked months ago, reviewed and put on the Bureau of Land Management’s list of priority projects for 2012.

That means, according to the BLM website, that the projects had “demonstrated to the BLM that they have progressed far enough to formally start the environmental review and public participation process, as well as have the potential to be cleared for approval by the end of the year.”

Nobody from the BLM was available Tuesday to help us get clarification as to what the bureau would now do to further speed these priority projects toward approval.

What was abundantly clear, however, was the administration’s eagerness to promote its unprecedented efforts to open up the public lands for utility-scale renewable energy development. The announcement certainly did the trick — hundreds of news outlets reported the headline without even attempting to explain what “expediting” the approval process might mean.

The announcement employed a couple of the president’s campaign themes, as well. First, the White House said the move was part of the president’s “We Can’t Wait Initiative” – actions that can “put folks back to work and strengthen the economy” without needing Congressional approval. Second, the White House said the move fit with the president’s “all of the above” strategy on domestic energy production.

“These seven proposed solar and wind projects have great potential to grow our nation’s energy independence, drive job creation, and power economies across the west,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in the announcement.

The biggest of the projects on the list was the 3,000-MW Choke Cherry/Sierra Madre wind project in Wyoming alone. Its target date for full approval, according to the White House announcement, is October 2014, last among the seven. So there won’t be jobs or power produced there for some time.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Tami Kennedy

    I still label it political campaign talk, maybe PCT over PTC. He does not have sufficient leadership to achieve government consensus. Natural gas as a climate solution is higher on his priority list.

    • Pete

      You’re not impressed that the administration has approved more utility-scale energy projects in three years than were approved in the two preceding decades? The announcement was definitely campaign talk, but it was possible because of a real and quite staggering record of achievement on this front.