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Poll: 75% Support US Utility Solar Development

As more utilities support the development of large-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) plants in the around the U.S., some citizens have raised questions about the environmental sustainability of certain projects. However, a new poll released yesterday by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Gotham Research Group shows that an overwhelming number of Americans support utility-scale projects on public lands that have not been designated as preserves.

The researchers surveyed 500 random U.S. adults and found that 75% of respondents support large solar projects. Among those supporters, 40% say that they strongly support such projects. According to the survey, that support spans across all demographics and political parties.

“The survey shows that there is both broad and deep support for large-scale solar initiatives,” said Jeff Levine, president of the Gotham Research Group, speaking on a conference call for reporters.

Over the last year, some environmental groups have raised concerns about the aesthetic and environmental impact of solar thermal and solar PV plants located in wilderness areas. As a result, a number of of projects have been postponed or scaled back.

While a number of participants on the call recognized the potential impact of projects, they also said the so called “green versus green” battle between renewable energy companies and environmental groups had been overblown by the press.

“It is a bit of an unfair portrayal. I think on the whole, the environmental community is unified in supporting clean energy...and of course, doing it in a smart way that protects the environment,” said Sean Garren, a clean energy advocate for Environment America.

While the poll shows a vast majority of Americans in support of large-scale solar, there are still many barriers in front of the industry. Slow permitting processes, regulatory overlap among state and federal agencies, water and land-rights disputes, transmission bottlenecks and financing remain the top issues for utilities and solar companies.

With all those challenges still on the table, developers are still pushing forward. SEIA estimates that more than 200 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale PV and CSP projects will come online in 2010, potentially creating tens of thousands of jobs. That's a major increase over last year, which saw five plants totaling 58 MW connected to the grid.

SEIA also says there are more than 100 more projects that have been announced, mostly in the Southwest, which represent 17,000 MW. If those are developed, they could create 100,000 direct and indirect domestic jobs, according to SEIA's president Rhone Resch.

“As we're making investments in clean energy, we're investing in our economy as well,” Resch said.

Given the complex regulatory environment, it is uncertain whether all those projects will succeed. But as more Americans express support for such development, SEIA hopes it will encourage regulatory agencies, environmental groups and industry players to work together to help large-scale projects move forward.

According to SEIA, the findings of the survey are based on polling conducted from February 24 through February 26, 2010 among a representative sample of 500 U.S. adults, age 18+. The margin of error on the total sample of 500 is +/- 4.4 percent.

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