For solar and wind energy projects, a new lease on land
The Bureau of Land Management announced a new regulation in November, changing how public lands are leased for solar and wind energy development. The rule incentivizes leases on lands that aren’t needed for conservation, and is intended to make financing easier for renewable energy development.
The Obama Administration began reviewing sustainable energy production on public lands in 2012. This rule, which came in response, has the support of lawmakers across the aisle: Some 14 Republican and Democratic members of Congress have endorsed it. In a divided House, what brings lawmakers together over clean energy policy?
“It’s addressing both economic and environmental concerns that can raise revenue for the US, as well as increase deployment of clean energy to help us all,” says Jennifer Macedonia, an energy fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
According to Macedonia, the new rule established a competitive bidding process for renewable energy projects on public lands. In the past, lease applications for a tract of land have often been considered on a first-come, first-served basis. “And that’s not always the best application,” she adds.
What’s more, the regulation incentivizes that projects take place on what Macedonia calls “low-conflict” lands — public lands that haven’t been set aside for wildlife or other special uses. According to Macedonia, the new incentive is an environmental boon, but also a practical one: Wind and solar energy projects on public lands typically face a lengthy review process.
“Because we’re talking about potential conflicts with the Endangered Species Act, potentially sensitive lands, wind energy and solar development have complex environmental reviews associated with them to determine if there are any conflicts,” she says, adding that the review process has even scared some developers away. “In many cases, people were more likely to look to private lands instead of public lands.”
But the new regulation has some critics in the industry, including developers who worry that it will make leasing on public lands more difficult. In a statement, the American Wind Energy Association writes that the rule “will add time, uncertainty, complexity, and expense to a process that was already more difficult than developing on private lands.”
“Some in the solar and wind development industry would have liked the rule to go further in smoothing the way for renewable development on federal lands, not just in these pre-screened designated leasing areas,” Macedonia notes.