Senate hearing reveals policy priorities for solar

With the U.S. commonly predicted to be the next big, booming market for solar, and the U.S. government pinning hopes for economic recovery on the job-creation potential for solar, the solar-friendliness of policies and provisions implemented by the federal government this year will undoubtedly help determine whether both sets of lofty expectations can be met.
At a recent hearing held by the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee and Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy, high-profile solar company executives and government officials outlined the most crucial steps that the federal government must promptly take in order to ensure continued growth in the country’s solar market.
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, noted that the installation of large-scale solar projects has created a major shift in operational tactics at the Department of the Interior (DOI). “For the first time ever, environmentally responsible renewable energy deployment is a priority at this department,” he stated, according to prepared remarks released by the Senate.
Salazar stressed that the DOI, which oversees 20% of the U.S.’ land, must expedite its processing of the 128 utility-scale solar project applications – totaling approximately 77,000 MW – that the Bureau of Land Management is currently evaluating. Renewable Energy Coordination Offices, project fast-tracking and the identification of 1,000 square miles in the West as Solar Energy Study Areas are expected to help maintain the momentum.
In conjunction with the Department of Energy (DOE), the DOI is also preparing for a release late this year of a Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, designed to provide a “landscape-scale plan for siting solar energy projects on our public lands in the Southwest that have been identified as having the best potential for utility-scale solar energy development,” Salazar added.
Complications associated with connecting completed solar facilities to the grid and transmitting the power produced also ranked as high priorities for the solar executives who testified, as did existing transmission siting and interconnection rules.
Similarly, the DOE’s loan-guarantee program, another financial backstop intended to mitigate the effects of the U.S.’ still-shaky economy, must be extended to 2016, according to the solar executives who testified.
Some of the other key policy issues highlighted in the Senate hearing, included: a national renewable electricity standard and cap-and-trade mechanisms for curbing carbon emissions, a tax credit for residential solar installations was requested to be expanded to 50% of the cost of an eligible solar system, and opening up the ability to finance smaller projects as part of the proposed Green Energy Bank.
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