WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2016 - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has finalized a new rule governing solar and wind energy development on public lands, drawing criticism from the wind energy industry but praise from some conservation groups.
The Interior Department, which oversees BLM, says the rule will support renewable energy development through competitive leasing processes and create incentives to encourage development in “suitable areas.”
“This new rule not only provides a strong foundation for the future of energy development on America’s public lands, but is an important and exciting milestone in our ongoing efforts to tap the vast solar and wind energy resources across the country,” says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
But the American Wind Energy Association has expressed concerns over the rule, asserting that it will add time, uncertainty, complexity and expense to a process that was “already more difficult than developing on private lands,” in effect making federal lands even less attractive to wind energy developers.
The rule supports development in areas with the “highest generation potential and fewest resource conflicts,” Interior says. However, AWEA says the rule penalizes projects pursued outside of designated zones, stressing that there are currently no designated zones for wind energy – and there may not be for years.
The group calls this “discriminatory treatment” that places wind energy at a competitive disadvantage to energy sources that already have such areas designated and can benefit from the rule’s incentives to develop in those areas.
“This rule will only serve to further discourage wind development on public lands, contrary to BLM’s stated intent,” says Tom Vinson, AWEA’s vice president of federal regulatory affairs.
Conservation groups and others, however, are praising the rule. The Wilderness Society (TWS), for example, said the rule will expedite renewable energy projects on less-sensitive public lands, and also “minimizes environmental impacts from new energy infrastructure.”
“The rule is important for renewable energy and wildlands, because it creates a streamlined process that gears development towards land with low environmental conflict,” TWS said
BLM says the rule will support the full range of development activities anticipated across the lands it manages. The agency anticipates that the competitive leasing provisions will help
renewable energy development flourish on the 700,000 acres of public lands that have been identified in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
“The BLM is incredibly proud of the work we’ve done over the last eight years supporting wind and solar development,” says BLM Director Neil Kornze. “We went from only a handful of approved projects in 2008 to a robust program with over 15,000 megawatts approved, six times the amount we had approved in the 25 prior years.”
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