US public land solar auction fails to attract bidders

The first ever U.S. federal solar auction – held last week in Lakewood, Colorado – failed to attract a single bidder as nobody showed up and no sealed bids were received.

In what was a chastening outcome for the auction’s administrators, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the lack of interest in the auction left the organizers at a loss to explain what happened, but confident that this washout did not reflect a lack of wider confidence in the local solar industry.

"The BLM had received interest in developing the [solar] sites, that’s why we moved forward with the auction," said BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo. "It’s hard to say why we didn’t have any bidders."

In the build up to the auction, the BLM received nine applications and 27 inquiries, each from the private sector and all expressing an interest in exploring the possibility of developing a solar project on 3,705 acres of public land in the San Luis Valley. Hence, BLM felt that an auction would be an appropriate course of action to take.

"We will evaluate what happened with this auction as we look at future opportunities to offer lands in Solar Energy Zones for development, both in Colorado and other Western states," added a BLM statement.

Spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Ken Johnson, believes that the auction’s timing was maybe a little too premature for many private investors to be able to properly assess the opportunity and lodge their bids.

"The ground rules are still very much in question. To date, BLM has yet to finalize any regional mitigation plans," said Johnson in an interview with local newspaper, The Denver Post. "Frankly, it’s not smart business to commit to something until you’ve read the fine print."

President Barack Obama has been a big supporter of solar power, with his administration making stringent efforts to promote the industry as part of the nation’s energy strategy since 2009. In the past four years, the Interior Department has approved 25 solar facility projects to be built on federal land.