Solar in them thar hills

A Goldman Sachs subsidiary is sitting on leases for more than half the available land set aside for solar projects on Bureau of Land Management properties, according to an Associated Press investigation. Goldman-owned Cogentris Solar Service, which had no previous solar experience, has eight applications that “cover nearly half the land proposed for solar in Nevada,” the AP story said. Its active lease applications cover about 120,000 acres.

They’re the biggest example of what happened when, in 2005, Congress mandated 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy be developed on public lands by 2015. It was left up to the BLM to carry out that directive, which they attempted to do by a first-come, first-served system that allowed companies like Cogentris to clog up the system without fully knowing how much land they really needed for a project. For example, said the AP, Cogentris “has a pending application for 13,440 acres in Nevada for a 1,400-megawatt solar plant. Another claim on land nearby asks for 22,400 acres for the exact, same-sized plant.”

While these applications were being filed, the Bush administration kept the BLM’s focus on oil and gas leases, 73,000 of which were approved in the past five years while not one solar lease has gotten final BLM approval, reported the AP. Now, the Obama administration has identified 14 fast-track projects to be approved this year, so they can qualify for stimulus funding, with the first two (both California-based) expected to get the first solar permits issued by the BLM this month. Cogentris’ projects are not among them.