California solar energy plant developers asked the Renewable EnergyPolicy Group this past Friday if environmental approval processes couldbe sped up, since projects are making little to no progress towardstheir 2010 construction goals–goals that must be reached if theprojects are to qualify for specific federal funds. This frustrationwith the slow pace of approval has become something of a theme withsolar development in the southwest and California. Various billshave been proposed that would (a) speed up the approval processes forsolar energy plants or (b) at least provide clearer environmentalguidelines for plant development to make it easier to predict thesuccess or failure of a project. Developers don’t see why separateguidelines need to be established–can’t they just use the guidelines inplace for other large desert developments? Why is solar so much morecomplicated?
The fact is, solar is just new. Even though the technology (in somecases) has been around for half a century or longer, we truly don’t yetknow what long-term impact solar energy plants will have on the landaround them. Of course, we didn’t know this when we built the firstcoal plants, or the first nuclear power plants, and while one couldhope we’ve learned from our trials and errors, perhaps one thing we’velearned is caution. This is an inopportune time for lawmakers tosuddenly get cautious about land use, though, as California inparticular struggles to meet its solar capacity goals set by thestate’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and managed as theCalifornia Solar Initiative. By the end of 2010, says the RPS,California should be getting 20 percent of its power from renewablesources, among them solar electric generation and solar thermal plants.It looks likethe state will fall short and need to redouble its efforts to ramp uprenewable capacity in time to meet its next milestone of 33 percent by2020.