Obama climate plan pushes RE

President Barack Obama’s second-term climate change strategy to be unveiled in the coming weeks will expand permitting of solar and wind energy development on public lands, says White House energy adviser Heather Zichal.

It will also include measures that promote energy efficiency and tougher Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for new and existing large greenhouse gas emission sources such as power plants and refineries.

Zichal provided few specifics, telling a Washington, DC, conference that the plan will focus on “key opportunities” and can be carried out through the executive branch. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives flatly opposes Obama’s climate agenda, and rejects new funding for green initiatives. Coal-state Democrats in the Senate also reject climate legislation.

After taking office in 2009, his administration through the US Interior Department (DOI) has approved 25 utility-scale solar facilities, 9 wind farms and 11 geothermal plants, with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure to connect to established power grids, on public lands.

When built, the White House estimates these projects could provide more than 12.5GW of power, or enough electricity to power more than 4.4 million homes.

DOI has identified an additional 15 renewable energy proposals slated for review this year and next. They include what could become the world’s largest onshore wind farm in Wyoming.

The use of public lands in California, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere to advance renewable energy development is increasingly opposed by some conservation groups who say it is placing at risk native animal and plant species such as the endangered desert tortoise.

DOI is also encouraging tribes to develop solar and wind power on their reservations, land that is held in “trust” by the federal government for future generations of Native Americans.

Obama supporters say the upcoming plan will build upon solid achievements on the climate front during his first term that include increasing US wind installations from 25GW to 60GW, a huge surge in solar capacity, boosting vehicle fuel economy standards and declining greenhouse gas emissions.

Since his 20 January inauguration, Obama has struggled to gain the political initiative on a host of issues including climate change and renewable energy. His administration has bogged down amid lack of a clear policy agenda for the next four years, foreign policy missteps, alleged use of the federal tax authority to intimidate conservative groups, cabinet changes and soured relations with the press.

Congress has also held up approval of his nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy.

Since the 2012 election campaign, Obama has repeatedly promised action on climate change including in a speech Wednesday in Germany. “Our dangerous carbon emissions have come down, but we know we have to more, and we will do more,” he said in Berlin.

Environmental groups, who have been among his strongest backers, say the time for talk is over and they are demanding that Obama act.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday reaffirmed that his department will continue to support development of solar power.

“I would argue that I believe that the scale and timeframe of impact of solar technology … is underestimated,” he told a conference. “There are many situations today when solar is, in fact, competitive.”

“We are aggressively pursuing this in many dimensions. I think that’s an example of something we will look back on in 10 years and be surprised at the scope,” he added.

The White House continues to be buffeted by political fallout in Congress from the decision by Moniz’s predecessor, Steven Chu, to provide DOE loan guarantees to thin-film panel manufacturer Solyndra and other solar firms that went bankrupt. Taxpayers were stuck for at least $570m.