Both the House and the Senate are considering a proposed law, the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2015, to streamline permitting for renewable energy development projects on public land. Hearings were held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on S.1407 on June 9, and by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on an identical bill, H.R. 2663, on July 13.
If passed, the proposed law would streamline permitting for solar, wind, and geothermal energy projects by establishing the areas identified in the 2012 Western Solar Plan as “priority areas” and “variance areas” for solar energy projects and directing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to identify such areas for wind energy projects and geothermal energy projects within 5 years; eliminating the need for projects in such areas to conduct a project-by-project National Environmental Policy Act analysis if BLM determines that a proposed project has already been sufficiently analyzed by a final programmatic environmental impact statement; and by requiring federal and state authorities to enter a memorandum of understanding to improve federal permit coordination for renewable energy projects.
The proposed law would also create financial incentives for permitting authorities to approve renewable energy projects. It would allocate a portion of the revenues collected as royalties, rentals, fees, or other payments under wind and solar energy rights-of-way, permits, leases, or other authorizations to the processing of renewable energy projects on federal land, including reducing the backlog of outstanding renewable energy permit applications. In addition, it would direct royalties from the use of public lands to state and local governments, and make wind or solar projects with a capacity of 20 MW or more ineligible for a rental fee exemption under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
Finally, the proposed law would protect species, habitat, and recreation in areas impacted by renewable energy project development. Specifically, it would establish a Renewable Energy Resource Conservation Fund for protecting and restoring important fish and wildlife habitat on federal land and for ensuring and improving right-of-way access to federal land and water for fishing, hunting, and other forms of outdoor recreation, and would require a study to determine the feasibility of carrying out a conservation banking program on federal land, including examining laws and policies to facilitate development of such a program.
The proposed law seemingly has something for everyone – streamlined permitting for renewable energy project developers; increased revenue for federal, state, and local governments; and conservation of species and habitats for environmental organizations and activists; and improved access for outdoor recreationalists. The bills have thus far been met with bipartisan support. Assuming that support continues through the remainder of the legislative session, the law will likely to lead to significant opportunities for renewable energy project development on public lands.