The Natural Resources Committee says the Federal government issued only a few dozen permits to develop wind and solar-energy projects on public land last year compared with more than 1,300 oil and gas permits for the same real estate. The low number needs attention fast, say members of the Committee
The culprit, according to many wind and solar industry officials testifying at the recent Natural Resources Committee hearing, is a bureaucratic process that can be used by project opponents to stall plans until they become economically unfeasible.
“I’m shocked at the constant problem of permitting and uncertainty,” said Rep. Jeff Landry, Republican of Louisiana. Also, James Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates, detailed the permitting process during his experience with what could become the nation’s first offshore wind generation project. The wind project has been clearing hurtles set up by opposing special-interest groups for the last 11 years.
With no legal requirement for the duration of a permit review period, “opponents can use regulatory stalling and delay tactics” to “financially cripple” projects that may meet the necessary standards, he said. “A small group can tie you in knots for years,” said Gordon, referring to a special interest group that he said “has sought to delay the [permit] review process at every turn.”
The Natural Resources Committee has been trying to identify roadblocks to wind and solar energy projects. At its first hearing on May 13, the committee asked directors of the Bureau for Land Management and the Bureau for Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to explain the alleged permitting delays. Those officials said they were working to eliminate redundant steps.
The wind energy industry employs about 75,000 people in the U.S., and the generating capacity has grown annually by 35% over the past five years, “second only to natural gas and more than nuclear and coal combined,” said American Wind Energy Association spokesman Roby Roberts. But despite industry growth, presentors agreed that the major roadblocks of policy uncertainty and a lengthy permitting process remain.
Although federal incentives, such as production tax credits and investment tax credits, have helped the wind and solar industries, current credits are set to expire by end of 2011.
In addition, a $7 billion grant program in the 2009 stimulus bill provided for 2,601 renewable energy projects, “leveraging about $22 billion in private sector investment,” according to Stanford University energy expert Dan Reicher. But if projects have not started construction by the end of 2011, they will lose the money.
Natural Resources Committee