Green Energy Firms Under Scrutiny Get 'We Can't Wait' Projects

The Obama administration shifted its alternative-energy goals into high gear today as seven renewable energy projects got the “We Can’t Wait” initiative designation.

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to expand domestic energy production and strengthen the economy, we are working to advance smart development of renewable energy on our public lands,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “These seven proposed solar and wind projects have great potential to grow our nation’s energy independence, drive job creation, and power economies across the west.”

And some of the companies managing those projects are already under congressional scrutiny on suspicion that they’ve received favorable treatment by this administration.

The White House touted the “job-creating infrastructure projects” as an endeavor that would provide power to 1.5 million homes “and support the president’s all-of-the-above strategy to expand American made energy.”

The projects are buoyed by an executive order in March that directed the Office of Management and Budget to fast-track the permitting and review process for select infrastructure projects. “Additional expedited infrastructure projects will be announced in the coming weeks,” the White House said.

The renewable energy projects come as the Interior Department has been increasingly limiting fossil fuel-exploration on federal lands.

“There is a tale of two energy policies to be told in this country. There are the states where domestic oil and natural gas production is growing, and there are the states where it is stagnating,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said at an Energy and Power subcommittee hearing last week. “In some states, oil and natural gas output is sharply increasing on private and state-owned lands. But in others where this administration calls the shots on federally controlled lands and offshore areas, the news is not nearly as good.”

Upton cited a recent Congressional Research Service study that found 96 percent of the increase in domestic oil supplies since 2007 has come from non-federal lands.

“If we take the lessons from this tale of two energy policies and allow states like Alaska to harness the resources as they do in states like North Dakota, it would benefit the national economy, jobs, gasoline price, and energy security,” the chairman said.

“While Democrats under President Obama’s leadership have put forth truly all-of-the-above energy agenda, it appears that my Republican colleagues are once again taking their cue from one of their most influential leaders, Sarah Palin, in reviving their simplistic ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ energy agenda,” ranking member Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said.

The projects green-lighted by the White House are Mohave Wind Energy (BP Wind) and Quartzsite Solar Energy (Solar Reserve) in Arizona, Desert Harvest Solar Energy (enXco) and McCoy Solar Energy (NextEra) in California, Moapa Solar Energy Center (RES Americas) and Silver State South (First Solar) in Nevada, and Chokecherry/Sierra Madre Wind Energy (Power Company of WY) in Wyoming.

The Interior Department is overseeing each, with the Bureau of Land Management coordinating on all projects except the Moapa one, which is also being overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

First Solar has been on the radar of Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this year. A spring committee report, citing internal Department of Energy emails, questioned whether First Solar projects that received more than $1 billion in loan guarantees from the Obama administration actually met the program qualifications for innovation. In the wake of grilling by the committee, First Solar’s CEO was replaced in May.

Beginning last November, Issa and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, began pressing Salazar about the department’s role in green-energy initiatives and for information on the expedited permitting and approval process for certain companies — including three of the firms whose projects were announced today, First Solar, NextEra, and Solar Reserve.

The two lashed out at Salazar in May for stonewalling their request. “Our concern is heightened given the serious nature of the questions raised and the government’s pattern of indiscretion in providing government assistance to politically connected green energy companies such as Solyndra,” Issa and Sessions said.

Today’s announcement coincided with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) speech at the fifth National Clean Energy Summit today in Las Vegas, where the senator called the alternative-energy partnerships “a ray of sunshine during the Great Recession.”

“As hard as it is to comprehend, there are still members of Congress resisting clean energy’s American success story,” Reid said. “And sadly they’re doing their best to send clean-energy industries and jobs overseas, and hindering the revolution in the process.”

Reid and Salazar yesterday announced the acceleration of alternative-energy projects on federal lands once reserved for defense.

Salazar, on a conference call with reporters, called the agreement with the Department of Defense “another major milestone in implementing the new energy frontier.”