U.S. Department Promises to Promote Renewable Energy

The Department of the Interior in the United States will increase its efforts to promote renewable energy.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-12-13 [SolarAccess.com] “We must explore ways to better capture the sun’s light, the sky’s winds, the land’s bounty, and the earth’s heat to provide energy security for America’s families,” says Gale Norton, the secretary of the federal department. Along with the Department of Energy, Norton co-hosted a conference, ‘Opportunities to Expand Renewable Energy on Public Lands,’ which attracted 200 officials from government, the renewable energy industry and environmental groups to focus on ways to increase wind, solar and geothermal production on public lands. The Interior Department currently leases, permits and licences for most of the U.S. government’s renewable energy, particularly geothermal. Based on information gathered at the conference, Norton and DOE secretary Spencer Abraham will make recommendations to the President and Vice President on ways to increase renewable energy production on public lands. “We seek the best ideas for reducing delays and bottlenecks in producing renewable energy,” Norton told delegates. “This is part of the Interior Department’s commitment to consult, cooperate and communicate, all in the service of conservation.” She says her department produces 40 percent of geothermal energy in the U.S., and its facilities have 600 PV systems, 40 solar water heating systems, 30 wind turbines, 15 earth energy heating and cooling systems, and 6 windfarms. Each year, the department uses 200,000 gallons of biofuels in vehicle and marine fleets, and has 1,200 alternative fuel vehicles. The conference was moved from California to Washington, and other speakers included the chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton and David Garman, DOE’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Jim Moseley, deputy secretary of Agriculture; Ray DuBois, deputy undersecretary of Defense; Linda Fisher, deputy administrator of EPA; and Mark Robinson, director of energy projects at FERC, also participated, as did Sen. Byron Dorgan, co-chair of the Senate Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus, and Congressmen Zach Wamp and Mark Udall, co-chairs of the House Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus. The conference was criticized as window dressing by critics who said department policies still favour oil, coal and other extraction industries. They said the Bush administration tried to cut federal funding for renewable energy research by 50 percent and that most of the US$34 billion in tax breaks in the House energy bill (which the administration supports) would go to the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries. The critics say the Bush administration continues to oppose efforts by James Jeffords, the independent senator from Vermont who chairs the Environment Committee, to require that electric utilities generate a certain percent of their power from renewable sources. “This administration talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk when it comes to supporting renewable energy,” says Jeffords. His bill would require utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. At the conference, Norton made no commitment on government action and did not discuss tax credits for renewables, but did ask manufacturers what problems they had in developing renewable energies on federal land. They replied that obtaining permits for leases was slow and littered with bureaucratic hurdles. One company spent 21 years in the application process and, at the end, government rejected its application, according to Jonathan Weisgall of MidAmerican Energy Holdings and the head of an association for the geothermal industry. He called the conference a pep rally and says government needs to switch its priorities and dedicate more people to help companies procure leases. “Look at your manpower allocation for oil, gas and coal, then look at the allocation for renewables,” he said. “It’s a joke.”
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