US renewable energy no longer a priority

Everyone has known for some time that renewables are not the priority for the US that they once were. Nonetheless, the latest data from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reveals just how far back the country has slipped in its efforts to move toward a clean energy future.

From the statement:

With only 700 megawatts added in the second quarter of 2010, wind power installations to date this year have dropped by 57 per cent and 71 per cent from 2008 and 2009 levels, respectively. Manufacturing investment also continues to lag below 2008 and 2009 levels. AWEA and a broad coalition of renewable energy, labor, utility, and environmental organizations are calling on Congress with an urgent appeal to put in place a strong national renewable electricity standard (RES) to spur demand for renewable energy, attract manufacturing investment, and save and create jobs.

Yet, despite much lobbying, that call went unheeded by the Senate on Tuesday, which proposed an energy bill focusing on oil spill liablity, energy efficiency and natural gas. There was no mention of a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which has been pushed for by the entire renewable industry for years. Here is how the AWEA responded:

Democrats, Republicans, environmental groups, labor unions, and companies across the country all strongly support the RES because it is essential for creating hundreds of thousands of American jobs, reducing carbon emissions, and increasing American independence from foreign oil.

That may be true, but there is no longer any momentum behind the renewable industry. AWEA said funding provided under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act is key to bringing projects already in the pipeline to completion. This happened in 2009, with 10,000 megawats of new wind power installed. But it is no longer happening. Today, power purchase agrements, which drive the project pipeline, are difficult to obtain, given the drop in overall electricity demand, lower natural gas prices and the absence of a clear national renwable energy policy.

Many projects are facing huge challenges in being shovel-ready by December 31, 2010, which is the deadline to receive millions of dollars in government stimulus money. Patrick Perry, an attorney at Allen Matkins law firm, said in an interview:

To be eligible for the tax credit or grant provided under the Obama Administration’s stimulus plan, companies must have spent 5 per cent of their projected construction cost by that deadline. The authorities have streamlined processes to rush approvals, but even those processes can take two to three years to get through. Any project for which an application has not already been submitted will not be able to meet the deadline. Some with pending applications may also not be able to get approvals in time to receive the tax credits.

The Obama Administration will have to act now, if does not want its green energy agenda and stimulus funding to go down in history as empty promises. This means speeding up approvals for stimulus funding for solar, wind and so on, and working with Congress to get a national RES passed. Time is running out.

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