Obama fast-tracks federal wind, solar energy projects

President Obama is fast-tracking seven federal wind and solar projects as the administration touts its energy policies amid GOP criticism over green investments and rising gas prices.

The projects in Arizona, California, Nevada and Wyoming will produce 5,000 megawatts of power, enough to run 1.5 million homes, the White House said in a statement announcing the decision.

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“These seven proposed solar and wind projects have great potential to grow our nation’s energy independence, drive job creation, and power economies across the west,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a written statement.

While the expedited projects announced Tuesday deal with electricity, rather than direct fuel substitutes for gasoline, it's nonetheless part of a wider push to promote the administration's policies on alternative energy and energy security.

Salazar and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday will hold a news conference celebrating the completed construction of the first wind farm on federal lands in Nevada. 

On Monday, Interior and the Department of Defense inked a deal to integrate wind, solar and other green energy technologies with military bases to keep power running during disruptions to the commercial electric grid.

The White House push on green energy comes as gas prices have surged in recent weeks, with analysts predicting they could continue to rise. 

While prices are below their peak of $4 in early April, Obama is on the defensive, as the rise has spurred GOP criticism of his energy policies. 

While the Obama administration has heralded the promise of green energy, Republicans have accused the White House of betting on unproven technologies and pushed for increased offshore oil-and-gas drilling, more access to energy sources on federally controlled lands and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Canadian oil sands to Texas refineries. 

The White House says there is little the president can do to alter the price of oil on international markets and that his green policies have helped boost energy supply.

Republicans have also charged that Obama’s support for green energy often rewards prominent political donors. 

An extensive House GOP report into the administration’s loan guarantee for now-bankrupt firm Solyndra released last week, however, did not find specific evidence to back Republican claims that the Energy Department provided help to the solar panel maker as payback for campaign contributions. 

The decision to fast-track wind projects Tuesday will be heralded by the wind production industry, which is also calling for a crucial wind energy tax credit to be renewed. 

The wind production tax credit pays wind power producers 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. It is set to expire Dec. 31, and the industry and Obama administration have said the uncertainty surrounding its future already has caused layoffs. 

GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney last week signaled he favors letting the credit expire, a move which brought criticism from many, including Iowa Republicans. Iowa has a growing wind power sector, and GOP leaders in the state have warned the expiring tax credit could cost jobs and hurt Romney in a key swing state.

—This story was updated at 12:07 p.m.