courtesy Department of Energy
Righting the Ship: Renewable Energy on Public Lands
Transitioning from energy sources that spur climate change to cleaner forms of energy is a complex but achievable goal. The Department of the Interior has made major strides toward improving the siting and permitting processes on federal lands for wind, solar and transmission projects. In 2009, Secretary Ken Salazar issued a guiding order to establish the deployment of renewable energy on public lands as a priority. This effort corrected a historically disproportionate focus on developing oil and gas. It laid out the real need to improve permitting processes to avoid sensitive wildlands and wildlife habitat.
The New York Times called Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s successful effort to put in place a plan for solar energy development on public lands in the West “his biggest contribution to a sensible long-term energy strategy.” We agree. Under Secretary Salazar, the Department came a long way in a short period of time.
The Bureau of Land Management took up Salazar’s challenge and championed a process to accelerate permitting for utility-scale solar projects by identifying the best solar resources with the lowest environmental conflicts in the southwest. This approach to guiding developers towards zones saves permitting agencies time and money, and takes an important step toward mitigating the impacts of energy development by first avoiding high conflict areas. The Fish and Wildlife Service also issued long-stalled Wind and Wildlife Guidelines, setting a framework in place to help developers determine the best sites that impact birds the least.
All of this was done to meet and exceed targets set in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The Administration has now permitted more than 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands, enough to power over 3 million homes.
But to cement the accomplishments of the first term, the Administration should use its 2nd term to continue its focus on proactive planning for conservation and to avoid important wildlife and wildlands resources when siting renewable energy development. A thoughtful approach to avoiding the real impacts of building out our nation’s energy infrastructure, including generating and transmitting power, will become increasingly important during President Obama’s second term. Attention must be given to establish policies that result in meaningful conservation efforts that balance energy development on public lands.
As we move into 2013, we will continue to support responsibly sited renewable energy development. The Wilderness Society hopes to see more attention paid to the complexity in finding the right places to site projects and recognizes wildlife and wildlands as important values to continue to protect. The good news is that the Administration has shown a commitment to doing renewable energy siting ‘Smart from the Start.’ Going forward into the President’s second term is the time to apply that approach to additional planning processes and other forms of energy.
Hopes for the Next Four Years