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Federal Lands Help, But State Policies Key to Renewables, NREL Says

Following last Friday's Earth Day commemorations, two sectors of the federal government demonstrated that a combination of state and federal policy efforts are needed for renewables to make the large-scale breakthrough that their backers envision.

A case in point was a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) touting the role of state and local governments to turn the corner on solar, wind and other renewable market development. State policies could be a key to attracting clean energy, it said.

Also, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM ) said on Tuesday it will publish rules in the Federal Register that are supposed to streamline the processing of right-of-way (ROW) applications for public lands with solar, wind and other renewable developments on them. These rules will allow the BLM to temporarily segregate lands in a wind or solar energy ROW application from the location and entry of mining claims while the BLM is considering the application.

In California alone there were the opening of solar equipment manufacturing plants, new clean vehicle infrastructure support, a green tracking system for the state grid operator, and a new guidebook for consumers to use in making green energy steps less painful. It is called "'Plug into Clean Energy," developed and distributed by Sacramento-based environmental organization Environment California.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and western regional officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helped open the new Solaria Corp. solar manufacturing plant in Fremont, CA. State energy regulatory officials who were also involved in the dedication event stressed the importance of more public-private partnerships as part of their Earth Day message.

"Californians have been instrumental in implementing incentives that help foster the growth of solar and other green technologies," said Newsom, noting that developing and attracting new manufacturing facilities and jobs is his top priority.

In the NREL report, "State of the States 2010: The Role of Policy in Clean Energy Market Transformation," what the authors call an emerging body of literature has developed identifying connections between state policy and renewable energy, and the report attempts to quantify this. "Renewable energy increased 3% across the United States in 2010," the report said.

"It is the first time that energy efficiency has been considered in this type of analysis, and the report shows significant connections between reduced energy use and building codes, electricity prices, and, in some cases, energy efficiency resource standards," the State of States document said. The most common connections are between policies and solar or wind development, according to the report.

Among the state-by-state highlights are the fact that Texas leads the nation in non-hydro installed renewable capacity; California leads in installed solar capacity; and eight states were found to have the strict building codes promoting renewables (California, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire Oregon and Pennsylvania).

On an interim basis, the BLM's new rules on solar/wind development on public lands will go into effect Tuesday, but the federal agency will seek public comment through June 26, and the rules will be finalized and completed in the next two years, a BLM spokesperson said.

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