The Interior Department on Thursday proposed updating its renewable energy regulations to encourage solar and wind energy development on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposed Renewable Energy Rule would reduce fees for these projects by about 80%, promote development in priority areas, streamline application reviews, and provide greater confidence to the private sector, according to a DOI press release. release
“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our responsibility to manage the nation’s public lands responsibly and mindful of the growing impacts of the climate crisis. The power and potential of a clean energy future is an undeniable and important part of that work,” said Laura Daniel-Davis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “Under the leadership of President Biden and Secretary Holland, this administration is taking a comprehensive approach to ambitious clean energy goals that will support families, grow local economies and help increase climate resilience in communities across the West.”
The BLM also released today an update on its ongoing environmental review of solar energy development in 11 western states.
“Our public lands play an important role in the clean energy transition,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “This proposed rule will allow the BLM to continue to lead the way in renewable energy while advancing President Biden’s commitment to building a clean energy economy, combating the climate crisis, promoting American energy security, and creating jobs in communities across the country.”
The BLM announced that these proposed actions complement President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda, which aims to boost US infrastructure and clean energy investment.
Proposed Renewable Energy Rule
The Energy Act of 2020 authorized the BLM to reduce acreage rents and capacity fees to promote wind and solar energy development on public lands. The BLM initially reduced those fees through guidance in 2022. The proposed rule would codify further reductions, improving financial predictability for developers pursuing long-term projects on public lands.
The proposed renewable energy rule would expand the BLM’s ability to accept leasing applications in priority areas for wind and solar development without first going through a full auction. It would preserve the BLM’s ability to conduct competitive auctions where appropriate and consistent with past practice, and expand the BLM’s ability to accept noncompetitive leasing applications when they are in the public interest.
“This update will help facilitate development in identified priority areas while maintaining adequate flexibility to ensure an equitable return to public land use,” the press release said.
The proposed rule opens a 60-day public comment period, which will include three public meetings. The rule replaces the BLM’s proposed Public Land Rule, which would encourage siting projects in “appropriate” locations and prioritize conservation of those projects. The Public Lands Rule provides tools for project developers to reduce harmful impacts and restore public lands used for renewable energy projects.
“The new rules will reduce rents and fees for renewable energy projects through 2035 and eliminate double payments for renewable energy developers, helping to lower overall project costs,” SEIA senior director of regulatory affairs Ben Norris said in a press release. “The rules also extend lease terms for renewable energy projects to 50 years, include a new category for stand-alone storage, and eliminate competitive lease requirements in priority areas—all positive developments for the solar and storage industries.”
As of January 2021, the BLM has approved 35 renewable energy projects, including 10 solar projects, eight geothermal projects and 17 transmission projects that connect renewables to the grid, on approximately 23,396 acres of BLM-managed public lands. These projects are expected to generate 8,160 MW of electricity, enough to power more than 2.6 million homes.
In addition to the proposed rule, the BLM posted preliminary alternatives to update its western solar development plans, another step to support responsible renewable energy development on public lands. The BLM is updating its environmental review program for solar development in 11 western states, based on the 2012 Western Solar Plan.
The expanded review will provide updated analysis to support the identification of areas with high potential for solar development and expedite permit processing and management of development permits in priority areas.
The BLM is currently developing 74 utility-scale land-based clean energy projects that have been proposed on public lands in the western United States. This includes solar, wind and geothermal projects, as well as interconnectors that are vital to the development of clean energy on non-federal lands. These projects have the combined potential to add more than 37,000 MW of renewable energy to the western electricity grid. The BLM also undertakes preliminary reviews of more than 150 solar and wind development applications, as well as 51 solar and wind energy test applications.
The BLM manages vast tracts of public lands with the potential to contribute significantly to the nation’s renewable energy portfolio and provides areas for environmentally friendly renewable energy projects.
“Efficient deployment of renewable energy on the nation’s public lands is critical to achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, as well as allowing for 25 GW of solar power in Congress’s 2020 Energy Act.” , wind and geothermal energy on public lands by 2025,” the press release said.
Update from the US Department of the Interior