Government Shutdown Will Likely Delay Renewable Energy Projects

The Capitol stalemate will almost certainly affect renewable energy development in California | Photo: Victor Cheung/Flickr/Creative Commons License

With Congress' failure this week to pass a continuing resolution to keep government funds flowing, the agencies that make up the Department of the Interior have closed except for those offices necessary to provide essential public safety services. That means that a number of renewable energy projects that had been undergoing environmental review by the Bureau of Land Management may well be delayed, as staff are furloughed and schedules slip.

In a notice published on the Interior Department's mainly-closed website, the BLM explained that the agency had suspended all work relating to "permits and approvals for renewable energy and other rights of way."

At least eight renewable energy projects on public lands in California may be affected by the shutdown, including the Palen Solar Electric Generating System and Blythe Solar Power Project, both in Riverside County, and the Stateline Solar Farm project in San Bernardino County's Ivanpah Valley.

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The scope of the delay for each project depends on several factors, most importantly the length of time it takes to resolve the shutdown, but also where the project was in the assessment process.

Of the California projects delayed by the shutdown, the 100-acre Ocotillo Sol solar project may be the least affected in the long term: its Finale Environmental Impact Statement has been completed, and the project's owners San Diego Gas & Electric await only Interior's Record of Decision (ROD) before a right of way can be granted. A plan to open up more than 22,000 acres in southern Inyo County to potential geothermal development in the Haiwee Geothermal Leasing Area was scheduled for an ROD in November: whether that schedule will slip remains to be seen.

Palen Solar Holdings, the BrightSource Energy-Abengoa joint venture proposing the 500-megawatt Palen project east of Joshua Tree National Park, may not be so lucky. The BLM was in the middle of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on changes in that project's design when the money ran out, and unless the shutdown is resolved in a few days, delays could well interfere with the proponents' funding schedule. Palen Solar Holdings has made it clear that their project is in trouble if approval by both the state and the Feds isn't granted by the end of the year, as that would make the venture miss key deadlines with their prospective lenders. A shutdown of more than a week or so might squeeze that deadline hard.

NextEra Energy's Blythe Solar Power Project in the Palo Verde Valley is likewise awaiting BLM review of changes to its design. Also delayed in their way through the environmental review process due to Monday's shutdown are the Soda Mountains Solar project along I-15 southwest of Baker and First Solar's Stateline Solar Farm project in San Bernardino County, the Walker Ridge and Tylerhorse wind projects in Colusa County and Kern County respectively.

And the gargantuan desert-wide planning process known as the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which is being assembled by the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with state agencies to chart renewable energy development over 22 million acres of the state of California, had been projected to release a draft version of the plan for public comment in late October. That deadline will almost certainly slip, given the amount of extra work its BLM and USFWS authors will have just dealing with the effects of having been away from their desks, even if the shutdown doesn't last for weeks.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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