The Department of the Interior announced a proposed update of its renewable energy regulations to promote the development of solar and wind energy on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposed Renewable Energy Rule would reduce fees for these projects by around 80%, facilitate development in priority areas by streamlining application reviews, and deliver greater certainty for the private sector.
“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our responsibility to manage the nation’s public lands responsibly and with an eye toward the increasing impacts of the climate crisis. The power and potential of the clean energy future is an undeniable and critical part of that work,” said principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management Laura Daniel-Davis. “Under President Biden and Secretary Haaland’s leadership, this administration is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach toward ambitious clean energy goals that will support families, boost local economies, and help increase climate resilience in communities across the west.”
“Our public lands are playing a critical role in the clean energy transition,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “This proposed rule would allow the BLM to continue leading the way in renewable energy while furthering President Biden’s commitment to building a clean energy economy, tackling the climate crisis, promoting American energy security, and creating jobs in communities across the country.”
The BLM also updated available information regarding its ongoing programmatic environmental review for solar energy development across 11 western states. The preliminary alternatives build on public engagement that is helping strengthen updated plans for solar energy development on public lands.
The BLM’s actions are part of broader Biden-Harris administration efforts to unlock the benefits of clean energy. President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is growing the American economy from the middle out and bottom up — from rebuilding infrastructure, to driving more than US$470 billion in private sector manufacturing and clean energy investments in the United States, to creating good paying jobs, including union jobs, and building a clean energy economy that will combat climate change.
Proposed Renewable Energy Rule
The Energy Act of 2020 authorized the BLM to reduce acreage rents and capacity fees to promote wind and solar development. The BLM initially reduced these fees through guidance in 2022. The proposed rule would codify further reductions, improving financial predictability for developers pursuing long-term projects on public land.
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 retain the BLM’s ability to hold competitive auctions where appropriate and consistent with past practice and expand the BLM’s ability to accept non-competitive leasing applications when they are in the public interest. This update would help facilitate development in these identified priority areas while maintaining appropriate flexibility to ensure a fair return for the use of the public lands.
The proposed rule would also continue the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to creating American manufacturing jobs while helping build a clean energy economy. The proposal seeks input on additional incentives to promote public lands’ renewable energy projects developed with American-made parts and materials or constructed using union labor.
The proposed rule opens a 60-day public comment period, which will include three public meetings.
Next Steps On Solar Programmatic Review
In addition to the proposed rule, the BLM posted preliminary alternatives for the ongoing update to its planning for western solar development, another step to support responsible renewable energy development on public lands. The BLM is undergoing a process to update its programmatic environmental review for solar energy development across 11 western states, building on the 2012 Western Solar Plan.
The expanded review would provide updated analysis to support identification of areas with a high potential for solar energy development, as well as expedite permit processing and improve permit management for development in priority areas. The preliminary alternatives made available provide the public with an opportunity to consider emerging options for this planning process.
Continued Progress On Responsible Clean Energy Development
The steps complement the BLM’s proposed Public Lands Rule, which would provide further support for siting projects in appropriate locations while putting conservation on an equal footing with other uses. The Public Lands Rule would provide consistent direction and new tools for compensatory mitigation, allowing developers to offset the impacts of projects with restoration or mitigation efforts on public lands, for the public’s benefit.
Taken together, these actions are helping advance the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to support the efficient and environmentally responsible development of renewable energy on BLM-managed public lands, provide greater clarity and consistency in permitting, and allow continued acceleration of project reviews and approvals, all while balancing the BLM’s multiple use mandate.
Since January 2021, the BLM has approved 35 renewable energy projects, including 10 solar projects, eight geothermal projects, and 17 transmission gen-tie projects connecting renewable projects to the grid, on approximately 23,396 acres (9468 ha) of BLM-managed public lands. These projects are expected to produce 8160 MW of electricity — enough to power more than 2.6 million homes.
The BLM is currently processing 74 utility-scale onshore clean energy projects proposed on public lands in the western United States. This includes solar, wind, and geothermal projects, as well as interconnected gen-tie lines that are vital to clean energy development on non-federal land. These projects have the combined potential to add more than 37,000 MW of renewable energy to the western electric grid. The BLM is also undertaking the preliminary review of more than 150 applications for solar and wind development, as well as 51 applications for solar and wind energy testing.
The BLM manages vast stretches of public lands with the potential to contribute significantly to the nation’s renewable energy portfolio and provides sites for environmentally sound renewable energy projects. Efficient deployment of renewable energy on public lands is crucial for a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, as well as Congress’ direction in the Energy Act of 2020 to permit 25 GW of solar, wind, and geothermal energy on public lands by 2025.