The wild west is alive and well, and in New Jersey.
I have a client there who consults with farmers who own wide swaths of land and with renewable energy companies that are looking to develop solar farms on that land. He describes the phenomenon as a "land grab," where the renewable energy companies are trying to tie up the land available for large scale renewable projects, and landowners are trying to find the best deal for their land. The land grab is fueled, in part, by the favorable incentives New Jersey provides for solar projects, and a renewable energy portfolio standard of 22.5% by compliance year 2020-2021.
California–the site of the original gold rush–is primed to see another one. On September 24, California regulators raised the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, the requirement that power companies obtain a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources, to 33 percent by 2020. California’s renewable energy portfolio standard was already 20%.
The fever for gold in them there hills (and valleys and rooftops) could soon spread nationwide. Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act on September 23, which would:
install a renewable portfolio standard (or renewable electricity standard, in D.C. parlance) requiring states to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021
DSIRE has a nice map with all the portfolio standards for states nationwide.
What does this mean?
Where green buildings are concerned, higher renewable energy portfolio standards will mean that utilities are looking for additional sources of renewable energy, so it will pay for large scale projects like big box stores, hospitals and manufacturing facilities to incorporate solar into their designs.
Also, because the real estate market has been largely dead for big projects, open space that might have once been yet another shopping mall or housing development may be more likely to go to solar farms and other large scale renewable energy projects.
But, optioning land for renewable energy projects does not mean that all the renewable energy potential will be realized. For example, Goldman Sachs, no stranger to the speculation business, has tied up land in Nevada for solar farming:
A Goldman Sachs & Co. subsidiary with no solar background has claims with the BLM on nearly half the land for which applications have been filed, but no firm plan for any of the sites.
For the policy makers, the key will be to incentivize projects coming to fruition, not to facilitate pyramid scheme of tying up land with the hopes of flipping it to later developers of power projects. The task is to balance spurring the growth of the renewables market without creating a solar bubble in the process.