What does the big shutdown mean for solar?

Renewable Energy World, SEIA summarize areas where U.S. government shutdown will likely affect solar, renewables programs
For the first time since late 1995, a fractious impasse in Washington has led to a shutdown of the U.S. government. While the mainstream media outlets are replete with stories about the impact of the Congressional (in)action on various Federal agencies as well as on average citizens, solar and renewables advocates and content creators have also started reporting on the negative implications of the shutdown on the clean energy sector.

Jim Montgomery’s timely piece at Renewable Energy World kicks off with an overview of the overall shutdown (800,000 Fed workers furloughed, most Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency workers sent home, etc.), then segues into “how the U.S. federal government shutdown could directly impact the renewable energy sector.” He runs through several categories where the pain will be shared: project permitting and approval, 1603 grants, R&D, education and information, and power grid activities.

In a telling sign of growing unease among those in the midst of pushing projects through the development cycle, Jim noted that REW had “asked several solar and wind energy project developers with extensive pipelines of large-scale projects at various stages of progress and approvals how they think the shutdown will affect those projects and their business. All of them declined to comment.”

As one might expect, DC-based SEIA is on the case as well. In a statement issued by the association, chief exec Rhone Resch expressed a deep disappointment with Congress and noted that “a prolonged shutdown could be disruptive to the U.S. economy and hamper future growth,” in general and the domestic solar industry in particular. The release then lists some areas where impacts would be likely felt in the solar sector (presented verbatim below), most of which overlap or complement the REW reporting:

  • “The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) solar permitting activities are on hold until an appropriations bill is signed into law. Construction of solar projects under an existing right-of-way grant may proceed as usual, unless that construction may result in damage to governmental property or may cause a threat to safety.”
  • “If the shutdown is short-lived, the Department of Energy expects to continue operating as usual, because it has funds from prior years that it can use to pay for salaries and contracts. However, DOE warns that a ‘prolonged lapse in appropriations’ will require many employees to be furloughed. For the time being, though, the Solar Program, the Loan Program Office and the national labs will continue operating.”
    • (Curator’s note: Press releases from the hosting Orange County Great Park and DOE say that the shutdown will have no impact on the Solar Decathlon, which “is funded by a mix of last year’s federal funding and at least 30 private-sector sponsors.” I will be visiting #SD2013 tomorrow/Wednesday; the event will open to the public on Thursday, Oct. 3.)
  • “Like DOE, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has funding available from prior years to temporarily continue its normal operations and has published a notice to that effect. If the shutdown lasts longer than FERC has money to pay salaries, FERC will notify the public that most of its operations will pause. In that event, the Commissioners will still be available to vote on orders that require Commission action, but new filings and public comments will not be accepted. Deadlines and due dates will be adjusted accordingly.”
  • “At the Treasury Department, all 1603 Program office personnel have been furloughed. No 1603 grants will be issued during the shutdown. The 1603 Program online application system will remain open and allow certain changes and updates to project status.”

One thing’s for certain: the longer this case of political malpractice lasts, the greater the deleterious impact on the national interest and an increasingly important part of that interest–the solar energy industry.