Government Shutdown Hurting and Stalling Renewable Energy

Kramer Junction concentrating solar trough project

National Renewable Energy Lab - Warren Gretz

The government shutdown is causing renewable energy permitting on public lands to come to a standstill just as our nation needs to move towards a clean energy future

The federal government has been shut down, with no end in sight. Eventually it will reopen, but it remains unclear what the final cost of the closure will be. You’ve heard a lot about the impacts our national treasures – closure of our parks and monuments. Unfortunately, we are also seeing some major impacts when it comes to renewable energy – impacts that will inevitably slow down our transition to a cleaner sources of energy, like wind and solar.  

President Obama put forward an ambitious plan to tackle climate change during his second term, a plan the American public strongly supports. One of the major pillars was to substantially increase the amount of renewable energy permitted on public lands. While the administration permitted enough renewable energy on public lands during the first term to power 6 million homes, they are working towards doubling that amount through 2016. But the shutdown puts a roadblock in our path to achieve this clean energy goal.

Renewable energy projects on both public and private lands depend greatly on the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service within the Department of the Interior, and its ability to process permits and review the potential environmental impact of any large scale renewable energy project. Currently, renewable energy projects on public lands that could power up to 1.6 million homes are waiting for permitting approval. Without staff and funding to do this, these projects will be delayed indefinitely. Because most projects are not yet approved and being built, this means that renewable energy deadlines will be missed and put projects in peril. Also, up against these deadlines, we could see a rush to develop on public lands that are not suitable for energy development and end up hurting sensitive landscapes.

Renewable energy projects have been operating on very tight timetables over the past few years, due to Congress’ inability to pass a stable long-term extension of important tax incentives including the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). In order to qualify for the PTC, wind and geothermal projects have to be approved and under construction by the end of the year, therefore any delays due to the government shutdown, which are now inevitable, means that developers and financiers of renewable energy projects may have to pull out of them for fear that funding may dry up.

The government shutdown is a classic Washington self-inflicted wound set up by the fact that the House refuses to vote on a Continuing Resolution to just keep the government functioning. Without a swift resolution, we could see the administration’s commitment to “Smart from the Start” approach to protecting sensitive wild lands and developing responsible renewable energy projects sidelined just as the nation redoubles efforts to transition to a cleaner energy future.