Recent trade disagreements and Interior Department activities have brought to bear a crucial difference between China and America’s policy approaches to their respective clean energy industries; namely, that when America talks about providing capital, it is really only dealing with half the picture. While American policy makers have been obsessively focused on access to financing, China has approached the idea of capital with a broader definition, focusing both on access to funding as well as land.
The importance of policy that makes prime land accessible to this emerging industry is only now becoming clear. Tuesday’s announcement, of the Interior Department’s approval of the 1000 megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project on public land in California, alongside the groundbreaking of a $2 billion solar development on public land in Ivanpah, California, are steps in the right direction but still falls short of the comprehensive approach to capital that will be necessary to compete with China in the future.
The recent complaint by the United Steel Workers Union to America’s WTO representative about the Chinese government’s unfair trade practices – including highly favorable land grant agreements with renewable companies – has brought China’s aggressive industrial and trade policies into the spotlight. This coupled with the recent efforts of the Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management to make public land available for renewable power facilities, make clear that money isn’t the only commodity the government must provide to foster the renewable energy sector. Renewable energy sources are in many cases not just more expensive then their traditional counterparts, but larger and more constrained during deployment by certain geographic necessities. Access to cheap and prime land then becomes a necessity for fostering renewable energy production and the markets for these products here in the U.S.