BLM advances renewable energy development on federal lands

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is both advancing the prospects for new renewable energy projects on public lands within its control, and also lately has approved two such projects in Oregon and California.

BLM said Jan. 3 that it has published in the Federal Register an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to give the public background information about its interest in establishing an efficient, competitive process for issuing right-of-way leases for solar and wind energy development on public lands. Such a process would help ensure fair access to leasing opportunities for renewable energy development and capture fair market value for the use of public lands, as required under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, BLM noted.

Existing regulations limit the competitive process to procedures for responding to overlapping right-of-way applications. The BLM said it is seeking input on how best to offer public lands through a nomination and competitive process instead of just by right-of-way application. The BLM intends to evaluate ways to establish competitive bidding procedures for lands within designated solar and wind energy development leasing areas, define qualifications for potential bidders, and structure the financial arrangements necessary for the process.

“The renewable energy resources on America’s public lands are enormous,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “The competitive options we are evaluating are part of our commitment to improving the process by which we provide access for responsible renewable energy development while providing a fair return for the use of the public lands.”

The ANPR is subject to a 60-day comment period that closes on Feb. 27. The BLM said it wants answers to questions like: how should a competitive process be structured for leasing lands within designated solar and wind energy development leasing areas?; should a competitive leasing process be implemented for public lands outside of designated solar and wind energy development leasing areas?; and what competitive bidding procedures should the BLM adopt?

BLM on Dec. 29 announced the approval of two renewable energy projects that further advance President Obama’s initiative for a rapid and responsible move to utility-scale production of renewable energy. A solar plant in California and a wind farm in Oregon will be built on private lands and will use power lines that cross public lands to connect to their respective power grids. When built, the projects will deliver 379 MW.

“Today’s projects are the 26th and 27th renewable energy projects that Interior has advanced in just the last two years,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “As we continue to move thoughtfully and quickly toward a clean energy future, these projects are strengthening local economies by generating good jobs and reliable power.”

In California, the Centinela Solar Energy Project is a 275-MW solar energy power plant that will connect via a 230-kV transmission line to the existing San Diego Gas & Electric Imperial Valley Substation. The plant will be located on 2,067 acres of previously disturbed private land near El Centro. Interior approved the right-of-way for 19 acres for the power line on public land, and Imperial County gave a green-light to the solar power plant on Dec. 27, 2011.

In Oregon, the North Steens Transmission Line Project is a 44-mile, 230-kV power line that will carry power from a proposed wind power project on the north side of Steens Mountain in Harney County to Harney Electric Cooperative’s existing electrical transmission grid. The wind project, proposed on private land near Diamond, Ore., would generate 104 MW.

In the past two years, Salazar has approved 27 major renewable energy projects, or the transmission and roads associated with them, on public lands. The projects are expected to create over 12,500 construction and operational jobs and produce nearly 6,600 MW, enough to power 2.3 million American homes. These projects include 16 utility-scale solar energy facilities, four wind projects and seven geothermal plants.

“Land stewardship is an important part of any energy project, including renewables,” said BLM Director Abbey, whose agency worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state and local agencies, members of the environmental and conservation communities, interested stakeholders, and the companies to minimize the projects’ potential impacts to resources. “We use these lands now, but it is also important to make decisions that help ensure future generations get to use and benefit from these resources just as we do.”

Because the development on private land is connected to the federal right of way for the transmission lines and cannot proceed without Interior approval, the environmental impact report/environmental assessment had to consider the impacts of the projects’ entire generation and transmission, including the components located on private lands.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.