Alternative Energy

Published on August 10th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


Could Obama Administration’s ‘Big Solar’ Grow Up to Beat Big Oil?

One of the reasons that this nation is unable to pass meaningful legislation to get us off fossil fuels is that the Federal treasury has long relied on income from oil leases amounting in the billions per year. So it is hard for the US government to actually truly stand up to Big Oil.

But what if renewable energy contributed as much money to the Federal treasury… wouldn’t that create a new and powerful energy interest to successfully battle the Godzilla of Big Oil and get us to a new world where government decision-making is just as much influenced by renewable, clean and safe energy? Could we create Big Solar to fight Big Oil?

The Obama administration appears to be doing just that.  It recently proposed extremely high new land fees totaling in the billions, annually. These will fatten the Federal treasury as much as those paid by oil drillers,  from 200 solar projects proposed on desert lands, under Salazar’s Bureau of Land Management. Huge yearly income from all of these per-acre land rents and per megawatt yearly fees could have the effect of doing just that by creating ‘Big Solar’.

Even just one source will add $9.5 million a year to the nation’s common wealth from the 1,000 MW Solar Millennium parabolic-trough solar thermal project near Blythe, to supply LA.

Image: NRELBig_Solar_States

Potential "Big Solar" states could form a large and powerful voting bloc

The Blythe project would pay the highest rates, because it includes night-time storage (cha-ching! Premium rates: $7,884 per megawatt, per year), and it is close to a big city (cha-ching: equals Premium land rents of $318 per acre, per year) in a state that has legislation that requires a high level of renewable energy (California: 33% by 2020) and thus – has high demand.

The 200 solar projects on BLM lands are finally being fast-tracked – which is a relative term: Solar takes multiple years to get an approval, not minutes, the way that oil leases do. Solar takes years of nit-pickingly finicky elaborate environmental reviews.

But if this administration succeeds in its ambitious solar project, then the Senators from all the sunshine states would become as powerful a blocking lobby against oil and coal as the Senators from the oil and coal states are now, who now succeed in blocking renewable energy.

The states that are now over 90% coal-powered (Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Dakota) select coal-powered Senators.

Big oil states like Alaska, Louisiana, Wyoming, Kansas and North Dakota also field Senators with a financial interest in not believing in global warming. Even small oil or coal producers like Oklahoma and Alabama, if they have little else happening economically, also push their Senators to the Right and to a refusal to believe in the science of climate change.

But as an example of how fast a change in Senate voting patterns can happen, even though Texas and California are number 3 and 4 in oil production, both also long ago started serious renewable energy production, balancing their Big Oil, with a constituency for renewables.

Twenty years ago, Texas began what has become a world-power wind industry. California had an even longer gestation period. Under former Governor Jerry Brown, California built the very first wind farms (and the first energy-efficiency standards for appliances, and the first green building codes) in the US, way back in the Carter era of the ’70s.

So now, 40 years later, despite being number 4 in oil producing states, California‘s Senators Boxer and Feinstein have been consistent supporters of renewable clean energy for well over twenty years. Despite being number 3 in oil production, Texas, 20 years later, with its burgeoning wind industry, is now torn. While its Senators are still oil men, it is teetering on electing a Democratic Governor.

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