ENVIRONMENTAL AND ENERGY STUDY INSTITUTE Bipartisan Legislation Would Streamline the Development of Renewable Energy on Public Lands

  • Aug 13, 2019
  • Electric Energy

Sixty wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects were approved on federally-owned Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands by the Obama Administration between 2009 and 2016. For example, the Silver State Solar North and South facilities in Nevada were approved in 2010 and 2014, respectively. They have a total output of 300 megawatts, enough to power 95,000 homes, according to the Wilderness Society's database. Since 2017, however, and even as the prices of solar panels and wind turbines have fallen, only two new renewable energy projects have been approved on public lands.

To accelerate renewable energy development on federal lands, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) has introduced the Public Land and Renewable Energy Development Act of 2019 (H.R. 3794), a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by 18 Republicans and 18 Democrats. According to Rep. Gosar and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), who is cosponsoring the legislation, the federal regulatory process "discourages renewable energy projects on federal lands." This is attributed to the uncertain cost of renewable energy project development, the arduous process of applying for permits, and the fact that fossil fuel companies receive special benefits renewable developers cannot access.

The bill aims to lower such barriers to the growth of utility-scale geothermal, solar, and wind projects. The bill would create a Renewable Energy Coordination Office to streamline the permitting process and would require the Department of the Interior to identify priority areas of land for renewable energy projects every five years. Additionally, 25 percent of the revenue collected from project bonus bids, rentals, fees, or other payments would go to the state in which the project is located, 25 percent would go to the county in which the project is located, 25 percent to a Renewable Energy Resource Conservation Fund, 15 percent to the Treasury to carry out the Act, and the remaining 10 percent to the general fund of the Treasury.

The House Natural Resource's Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which is chaired by Rep. Lowenthal, held a hearing on the proposed legislation on July 25, 2019, featuring the following witnesses: Abigail Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); David Bobzien, Director of Nevada's Office of Energy; Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited; and Robert Lovingood, a San Bernardino County Supervisor in California. All of the witnesses supported the bill and largely provided positive feedback.

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