A “perfect storm” of policy and incentives has made 2010 a banner year for solar in California, but for the boom to continue in the state and the rest of the United States, major obstacles need to be cleared, according to a panel of experts convened by Climate One in San Francisco on Friday.
The backdrop for the panel, and reference point for much of the discussion, was the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a 392-megawatt (MW) solar project developed by BrightSource Energy Inc., which won final approval the day before. The panel included Karen Douglas, Chair of the California Energy Commission, BrightSource President and CEO John Woolard, and Lisa Hoyos, California State Coordinator, Apollo Alliance.
All three cautioned that the absence of a coherent, stable, and long-term national clean energy policy is holding back the industry. “One of the challenges in US policy is that sometimes with energy it has been very short-term. It’s been, ironically, perpetual and long term for fossil fuels, but short term and extended sporadically for renewables,” Woolard said. “We need a longer time horizon, not just with the grant piece, but with some basic structure that gives renewable developers, utilities, and the financial community clear guidelines over a fairly long period of time – at least five, more likely ten years, is reasonable.”
Douglas agreed: “It’s terribly damaging to extend a policy and then reverse the policy. If you do that too many times, developers feel burned. They invest their money trying to respond to a policy by bringing us something we say we want, like clean energy. If the policy is reversed, and they’re burned, they might not do it again. We really need to send a stable signal to developers to bring us the projects we need.”
We also need to be able to deliver the clean energy to the grid. Woolard noted that over the past decade US regulators have sited 12,000 miles of natural gas pipelines but only 600 miles of power lines. “It’s like running interstate commerce without highways and rails,” he said. “Transmission is the most dysfunctional and hardest to solve area; your siting is all driven by how you get access to the existing the grid.”
If you can get projects financed and approved by regulators, it will mean jobs, Hoyos said. “Clean energy jobs are growing ten times faster than any other sector of our economy in this state. We have 12,000 clean energy businesses,” she said. “We need to fully put our energy behind opposing Proposition 23 so we can continue to realize the benefits of AB 32, which is expected to generate in the next ten years over $104 billion in investment and other economic opportunities.”
Woolard said the Ivanpah project alone will create 1,000 construction jobs, and the 14 solar plants it has under contract will create 6,500 jobs through 2016.
Climate One, Commonwealth Club HQ, San Francisco (October 8, 2010)