Salazar resigns! What's next for energy?

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By now, news of the impending departure of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has caused a ripple throughout the industry.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar

Old news, right? Perhaps, but questions remain. Foremost, what will become of all the energy issues for which he has championed -- renewable energy, oil and gas drilling, America's energy independence?

Energy wins

Salazar's list of energy wins is long. He launched what has been called a "renewable energy revolution". He prioritized offshore renewable energy development, issuing the first-ever offshore wind leases in federal waters. He advocated for a new model of conservation, which furthered the nation's goal of energy independence. He authorized 34 solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands for a total 10,400 MW -- enough to power more than 3 million homes and oversaw solar energy development in the West. His aggressive push for the most rigorous oil and gas safety and reforms in U.S. history ultimately led to more drilling in the Gulf, paving the way to energy independence. President Obama gives Salazar much of the credit for his role in successful efforts to expand responsible development of domestic energy resources.

Even before becoming Secretary,  as a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Salazar helped lead the passage of the 2005 and 2007 Energy Policy Acts -- one of the most significant and comprehensive energy bills in decades.  The 2007 Farm Bill which Salazar also helped lead included key energy provisions. 

Enough said.

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Salazar's list of energy wins is long. He launched what has been called a "renewable energy revolution".
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Salazar's successor

Obviously, no one knows for sure what will happen, but there are theories.

"In the short-term, the impact will be minimal, but only due to the uncertainty around who the administration will pick to fill his role," said Jason Rodriguez, CEO and director of research at Zpryme.  "However, we expect his successor to be another champion of renewable energy and the advancement of the nation's electric grid."

Despite his positivity, Rodriguez does admit that Salazar's successor may have an uphill battle when it comes to advancing renewable energy projects.

"His successor will not have the same momentum or mandate to push along renewable energy projects," said Rodriguez. "Salazar had the stimulus funds on his side. So the next Secretary of Interior will have to tread carefully and strategically with the projects and proposals they wish to get behind."

"I have had the privilege of reforming the Department of the Interior to help lead the United States in securing a new energy frontier…," Salazar said in a statement. "I look forward to helping my successor in a seamless transition in the months ahead," he added.

Who Salazar's successor will be has been the subject of much speculation. The contenders range from outgoing Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and former New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, Bill Ritter, former Governor of Colorado, and Director of the federal government's Office of Personnel Management John Berry.

"All of the potential candidates will be a great champion of renewable energy and the smart grid, but Governor Gregoire or former Governor Ritter are probably the strongest candidates when it comes to being able to execute multiple large-scale projects at a very high level," said Rodriguez. "Their experience in running a state government will serve them well as Secretary of the Interior."

Another milestone

Despite Salazar's rapidly approaching retirement, the hard work hasn't stopped.

Under Salazar's direction, the Interior recently designated 192,100 acres of public land across Arizona as potentially suitable for utility-scale solar and wind energy development.

"This project is a key milestone in our work to spur smart development of solar and wind energy on public lands across the West," Secretary Salazar said in a statement. "Arizona has huge potential when it comes to building a clean energy economy… we continue to work closely with states, local communities, tribes, industry, conservation and other groups to reduce potential resource conflicts and expedite appropriate projects that will generate jobs and investment in rural communities."

Salazar resigns amidst rumors that Energy Secretary Stephen Chu also plans to leave, and follows the departure of the Environmental Protection Agency's top administrator Lisa Jackson.