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Slowdown in Solar Energy Development Puts Many Projects on Hold

Image: Slowdown in Solar Energy Development Puts Many Projects on Hold

By Courtney Coren   |   Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 09:23 AM

The rate at which large-scale solar power plants are being built has slowed significantly over the last five years, causing some companies to close and bringing major projects to a halt as financing gets harder to come by.

In 2009, there were 365 applications for solar plants. Today, there are only 20 scheduled to be built and only three large-scale plants that have actually gone online, The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

In October 2013, the first government auction for land dedicated to energy development in Colorado's San Luis Valley drew no bids. The agency in charge of the auction said it was surprised because when it was trying to gauge interest in the land back in March, nine applications and 27 inquiries were received.

Analysts also cite problems with companies not being able to get the necessary financing to break ground on major projects. Some developers are waiting on the government to see if it will continue to offer the large tax credits that helped peak interest in solar development five years ago. The tax credit is supposed to drop from 30 percent to 10 percent in 2016.

Solar developers have also struggled in negotiations with utility companies over how much they are willing to pay for solar-generated power, the Times reported.

"I would say we are in an assessment period," said Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute. "Nobody's going to break ground on any big new solar projects right now — utilities want to see how farms coming online this year fit into the grid, and developers are waiting for more certainty about state policies and federal tax credits."

Jerry Bloom, chairman of the energy practice at Winston and Strawn agrees. "Until you know that you are going to build the plant and be able to sell the power, no one is going to get money to build. No bank would fund it," he told the Times.

Despite the setbacks, however, solar energy advocates say remain optimistic.

"Considering that we did almost nothing in the way of large-scale solar for almost 20 years, this represents a substantial step forward," said V. John White of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

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