Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held hearings on the recently proposed Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2019, S.2666 (“PLREDA”). Although similar to the House resolution proposed last summer, PLREDA is the most recent bi-partisan effort to promote wind, solar, and geothermal development on public lands.  Its ultimate objective is to permit at least 25 gigawatts of renewable power projects on public lands by the end of 2025.

PLREDA seeks to achieve that goal through a combination of regulatory measures and financial incentives for the state and local communities hosting renewable development. The act instructs the Secretary of the Interior to classify the country’s public lands into three categories for renewable development: priority, variance, and exclusion.  The priority classification refers to those areas “preferred” for renewable project development.

While PLREDA offers little guidance for establishing exclusion and variance areas, it outlines three factors that the Secretary must consider in identifying priority areas. First, the area must be economically viable for renewable development.  That standard includes an assessment of an area’s access to existing transmission infrastructure.  Next, the proposed area needs to be “[l]ikely to avoid or minimize conflict” with wildlife and other resources or land uses.  Finally, the Secretary must ensure that he develops the area in coordination with the land use planning decisions of other federal agencies and in consultation with Tribal and state authorities.

The Secretary would have three to five years to complete the classification of America’s public lands. In doing so, the legislation mandates that the Secretary supplement the existing programmatic environmental impact statements (“PEIS”) developed for geothermal, wind, and solar energy resources.  The Secretary, however, cannot allow the process for supplementing each PEIS to delay the processing of renewable energy permits.  In an apparent effort to avoid delays, the bill allows renewable energy companies to “donate” funds to the Secretary to “help cover the costs of environmental reviews.”

The legislation’s financial components address the distribution of revenues and the adjustment of rental and other fees for renewable projects. State and local communities hosting renewable energy projects would receive 50 percent of the revenue generated from right-of-way rentals and other fees.  PLREDA also provides the Secretary with the authority to adjust rentals and fees during the life of a renewable project.  In particular, the Secretary may reduce those rentals and fees if necessary to “promote the greatest use of wind and solar energy resources, especially inside priority areas.”

PLREDA remains before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. For more information on PLREDA or renewable-energy issues contact our energy professionals.  S.2666’s text is here.