New BLM guidance will help ensure wind and solar projects are properly built and maintained

In 2012 President Obama paid visit to a solar plant in Boulder City, Nevada that now powers more than 17,000 California homes. This past year President Obama committed to doubling the amount of energy our country produces from clean wind, solar and geothermal resources, making proper management and inspections of projects on our public lands even more important.

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Have you ever hired contractors to build or remodel a house? If so, you know that while blueprints are important, it is also important to make sure that what’s on paper is translated to walls, windows and doors installed properly and in the right places.

In Bureau of Land Management speak, this critical process is known as “Inspections and Enforcement,” and it is the focus of new guidance the agency recently published for wind and solar projects on public lands. While this kind of oversight was required before, the new guidance will allow the BLM to be more effective and consistent across the west.

The guidance helps the BLM field offices by detailing:

  • what information a project developer must include in their formal plans for inspections and enforcement;
  • what information must be covered in required pre-construction meetings between the developer and the BLM;
  • how and when BLM compliance monitors will conduct their inspections, including mandatory monthly on-site inspections during construction. After construction, the BLM will perform yearly administrative reviews and will conduct on-site inspections at least every three years;
  • the BLM’s ability to suspend or terminate a project if requirements are not being met; and
  • the requirement that developers get BLM approval for changes to their construction and maintenance plans.

Not surprisingly, proposed projects often get a lot of attention during permitting. However, more focus is needed from agencies, developers and stakeholders after project approval to ensure that commitments for environmental and other protections made during the permitting process are carried out during construction and in routine operations. This guidance should help provide that focus. 

For example, if a solar project developer were required to install fencing to keep desert tortoise from entering the project site and being injured or killed by vehicles, inspections would allow the BLM to confirm that the fencing is installed and in good repair.  Similarly, a wind project might impact big game habitat through the building of roads and turbine pads. The developer could be required to complete habitat restoration work to off-set those impacts, and inspections would allow the BLM to ensure that the restoration work is being conducted as planned.

TWS is looking forward to working with the BLM and project developers to put these new tools to use as we work to protect wildlands and advance responsible renewable energy development.