Outgoing Secretary of the Interior Issues Challenge to Green Energy Industry

Doubling U.S. renewable energy production over the past four years and issuing permits for over 10,000 MW of renewable power on public lands are among the accomplishments outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently pointed to in illustrating the significant progress U.S. alternative energy has seen during his tenure at secretary.

On February 6, the day President Obama nominated Sally Jewell, CEO of outdoor-gear retailer REI, as Salazar’s successor, Salazar laid out for the attendees of the American Council On Renewable Energy’s National Renewable Energy Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., his achievements as secretary and his advice to those who hope to continue to usher the industry forward.

When he was confirmed in January 2009, Salazar said, the U.S. produced no renewable energy on its public lands, spurring him to sign a secretarial order that prioritized the revision of that statistic. In the four years since, the department has authorized 34 solar, wind, and geothermal projects accounting for 10,400 MW on such lands—the equivalent of 30 regular-sized power plants.

He pointed to the Interior’s progress in helping to develop green energy transmission infrastructure, describing seven pilot projects, accounting for 3,100 miles of transmission in 12 states, that the department has placed on a “fast track” to operationalization.

In the area of offshore wind, Salazar said he’s overseen a mapping of the Atlantic Ocean to identify the zones offer the best wind-power opportunities—adding that collectively, these zones have the potential to produce 1,000 GW of renewable power.

“He’s spurred a renewable energy revolution at Interior,” said retired Vice Admiral Denny McGinn, CEO of intelligent security software manufacturer RemoteReality and former member of the U.S. Navy, in his introduction to Salazar’s remarks.

Salazar stressed that the progress he’s overseen in the last four years hardly negates the fact that renewable energy in the U.S. has a long way to go before its proponents can feel satisfied. He issued a three-part charge to his listeners, describing what the policy- and energy-sector players in the room can do to ensure that green energy continues its march forward.

First, renewables advocates should “make believers out of the skeptics,” he said, by pointing to the real, accumulating progress on renewable projects across the country. He also entreated the forum’s attendees to “make sure you’re at the table,” and stay engaged in the discussions about the direction green energy is bound to take.

But his most pointed call was to policy makers, on the need to find—and maintain—a long-elusive financial certainty to undergird the renewables energy.  He lamented the production tax credits that ultimately spook the industry by expiring—or nearly expiring—annually, causing layoffs and complicating long-term planning at renewable energy firms.

“One of the ways you can help is to work to try to create the kind of financial stability that will help us make sure that we have a continuing renewable energy revolution in the U.S.,” he said.

Tags: Policy

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