Environmentalists and green energy developers have reason to smile as a major solar project has gotten another green light for development.

On Wednesday, California energy officials gave the go-ahead to Abengoa Solar Inc. to develop a 250-megawat solar facility in San Bernardino County in California. This hurdle is a major accomplishment as many green energy projects across the country have stalled, despite so-called “fast-track” procedures put in place by the Obama administration’s stimulus package. 

Time and time again, concerns about threatened animals like the desert tortoise as well as concerns about water supplies have side tracked solar development. This approval on the state level should clear the way for development, but there are still formalities.

Among the remaining procedures is the task of obtaining permits from the federal government. Under the stimulus package, Abengoa is eligible to have up to 30 percent of its development costs covered by the federal government. In return, the Abengoa project would put an estimated average of 850 people to work over the next two years to construct the solar project. According to the solar company, the construction phase of the project will employ more than 1,200 employees at its peak, and once the project is finished, nearly 70 full-time employees will be needed to run the facility.

So now the ball is in the Fed’s court. If the stimulus permits are approved, construction could begin as soon as December and the project could be finished by 2012. As for the political implications of this project, this may be exactly what an embattled administration will be pointing to as it continues to defend the stimulus package it pushed through Congress in the politically friendly times of winter 2009.

President Obama has been taking heat from both sides — those frustrated that unemployment numbers remain in the 10 percent range, and environmentalists who have watched the Senate fumble on passing meaningful climate legislation. This type of project provides the president some hope of recapturing those voters who placed “hope” stickers on their cars and trucks before pulling the Obama lever in the polls in 2008.

The announcement of a green energy project in an economically depressed region of rural Southern California may be exactly what the doctor ordered for a politically ailing president. The timing couldn’t be better. Midterm elections are little more than a month away, and the project’s completion would come right around the 2012 general election.

Of course, if delays occur in the permit process, and the stimulus’ “fast-track” system fails to get this project moving, the president and fellow Democrats may end up running away from the project instead of running on it. 

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