The federal government owns massive amounts of land out West, much of which is quite windy and sunny. Renewable energy deployments on that land haven’t accelerated much, though, due to a lengthy scrutiny process.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hoped to change that by releasing a finalized rule Thursday that would speed up leasing for clean energy on pre-cleared plots of land. If this five-year-long rulemaking had wrapped up a week ago, the story would be about how energy companies and environmentalists are reacting to it. Now the pressing question is whether it can survive the presidency of Donald Trump.
The Department of the Interior has approved 15,500 megawatts of renewable generation on public lands since President Barack Obama took office, and is aiming for 20,000 megawatts by 2020. The problem is, they’re not all getting built. The Desert Sun reported that only 31 of the 60 approved projects now operate; the rest were canceled or have been held up by economic or environmental challenges. A more streamlined approach to those concerns is warranted.
The new rule creates “designated leasing areas,” or DLAs, which have been scrutinized and selected to maximize generation potential while minimizing environmental damage. This is meant to speed up the leasing process, because it analyzes wildlife and wilderness concerns before a company applies to start developing those spots.
To sweeten the pot, BLM threw in some financial incentives. The application filing fee is $15 per acre outside the designated areas, $5 per acre within. Developers bidding for projects within a DLA can also earn credits up to 20 percent for the cost of their bid by doing things like having an approved PPA or employing less water-intensive technology. The per-megawatt capacity fee also phases in over 10 years inside of the special areas, compared to three years outside.
Should it stay or should it go?
According to bureaucratic norms, unraveling a departmental rule that went through notice and comment procedures and became final requires going back through notice and comment procedures and explaining why the rule is being rescinded or changed, said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. That is, of course, assuming Trump plays by the norms of the federal government.
On the campaign trail, Trump devoted most of his energy statements to support for American coal, oil and gas production. He’s said he wants to scrap the Clean Power Plan, crafted by Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector, as well as the Department of Energy’s efficiency standards.
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