PLREDA will ensure that, among other things, revenue from renewable energy projects like these wind turbines (which are not on public lands) will go to conservation.
BLM Oregon/Washington, flickr.
This proposed legislation is aimed at promoting renewable energy development in appropriate places on public lands, but also offers important environmental benefits. That’s because, under the act, a portion of revenue collected from wind and solar projects would be directed to fish and wildlife habitat restoration on public lands.
Renewable energy is growing, with projects approved on public lands increasing by 900 percent since 2009. With this growth, we need thoughtful policies that ensure development includes conservation and benefits to local communities. PLREDA is important for moving toward smarter renewable energy planning.
The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act:
- Directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) to establish areas for wind, solar and geothermal energy where development will be prioritized, similar to what the Western Solar Plan did in creating solar energy zones. (Priority areas must have access to transmission and avoid or minimize conflict with wildlife habitat, recreation and other uses of public land.)
- Requires DOI to coordinate renewable energy planning with states, tribes and local governments and gives land managers the resources they need to plan for and permit renewable energy.
- Dedicates fees and royalties collected from wind and solar projects to different areas:
-25 percent to the state where development takes place
-25 percent to the county where development takes place
-15 percent to more efficiently process renewable energy applications
-35 percent into a conservation fund to support fish and wildlife habitat restoration and improve access to public lands for outdoor recreation
The 35 percent that would go toward a conservation fund could help improve the quality of our parks, rivers and trails.
Coal, oil and gas have been produced on public lands for decades. But in recent years, DOI has taken significant steps to establish a renewable energy program for public lands. Fifty-seven renewable energy projects have been approved since 2009, totaling 15,134 megawatts of new power. These projects are creating jobs and driving innovation, and they will help supply Western markets with clean renewable power for decades to come.
But creating a renewable energy program hasn’t been without hiccups. The initial project-by-project approach to permitting left backlogged wind and solar applications, slowed permitting and created needless environmental conflict.
Congress is poised to set renewable energy up for success on public lands while simultaneously enhancing conservation investments. By passing the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, Congress will provide DOI with new tools needed to develop renewable energy in concert with conservation.
This bill has been introduced and discussed repeatedly in Congress in recent years, but it has never made meaningful progress beyond that. With the significant advancements made in renewable energy policy on public lands over the past eight years, the time is right for the passage of PLREDA. And with widespread bipartisan support for the bill, there is no good reason why it should not pass as soon as possible.
The upcoming House committee hearing is the beginning of getting this important legislation passed, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of the hearing.