Renewable Energy bill: something for everyone on public lands?

Love 'em or hate 'em, wind turbines are here to stay in the rural West. A new bill in Congress would require competitive bids from developers to lease public land for wind and solar projects. Courtesy of TheGorge.com

<strong>SALT LAKE CITY -</strong> A bill introduced Monday in Congress would require wind and solar developers to compete for public land leases, bidding on the places they want to site their projects. Once those projects were up and running, they’d have to pay royalties.

The money would be split between the state, counties and the Bureau of Land Management, and more than one-third of it would go into a wildlife and land conservation fund.

The Public Lands and Renewable Energy Development Act, HR 596, has sponsors from both parties in eight western states, but none in the Utah delegation.

Nic Callero, regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), said it’s designed to boost wind and solar development.

“It’s a relatively new idea for renewable energy projects,” he said. “It’s a system that we’ve already used on public lands for conventional energy projects, and what this does is basically evens the playing field for renewable projects versus conventional oil and gas projects.”

NWF believes a competitive leasing process also means developers will avoid controversial areas with critical habitat concerns to save time and money, Callero said. There’s also a Senate version of the bill.

The federal government is trying to meet a goal that Congress set in 2005, to generate at least 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public land by 2015, Callero said, and the clock is ticking. That’s also why the Interior Department chose to designate “Solar Energy Zones” in six states, including Utah, he said.

“This would run parallel to the recent actions that BLM has been taking. And basically in the last couple of years, what we’ve seen is BLM attempting to really ratchet up the production and the permitting of a lot of these projects so we can meet that goal by 2015.”

Since 2007, according to NWF, more than 40 renewable-energy projects have been approved on public land in the United States, along with more than 7,000 oil and gas projects. Conservation groups are convinced this bill could pick up the pace for “green” power.

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