Pending legislation would invest renewable energy rent money into conservation efforts

Renewable energy development across the West is growing at a rapid pace. When these projects are developed on public lands, rent fees are collected that could be used to aid conservation efforts.

Photo courtesy of Think Progress.

With renewable energy development continuing to grow at a rapid rate on our public lands, Congress must make decisions soon as to how to best manage wind and solar resources.

This includes supporting efforts to responsibly site projects, ensuring a fair return for the use of our public lands and increasing the certainty of the legal instruments used to manage development.

But in times of tight budgets, the most pressing question for Congress is how to divvy up the revenue. Where and how this money is spent over the coming years will be very important across the West, and pending legislation could send some of that money back to local communities and the environment where it is needed most.

Legislation recently reintroduced by a remarkable set of bipartisan Western lawmakers in the House and the Senate offers a common sense answer to that question.  Sponsored by 24 legislators (11 Republicans and 13 Democrats) from eight western states, the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013  creates the framework for more efficient, responsible renewable energy development on public lands. It would strategically direct the revenue from development to pay back local communities, fish and wildlife resources, and hunting and angling access that could potentially be impacted by this clean energy development. This idea is similar to the benefits oil and gas development already enjoy on public lands. Similar legislation introduced last year earned the support of the Western Governors Association, the National Association of Counties and a broad range of hunting and angling groups. 

This broad support should come as no surprise. In recent bipartisan polling we commissioned, researchers found that Western voters strongly support developing renewable energy on our public lands, and even more voters support returning a portion of monies collected for renewable energy rents to wildlife and land conservation.  The poll found that 73% of Western voters support the responsible production of wind and solar energy on public lands. When it comes to the use of conservation dollars from solar and wind energy rents, 85% of those surveyed want to see rent payments returned to local communities to restore fish and wildlife habitat and 81% support funds going toward setting aside key areas for parks, refuges and conservation areas.

Despite its broad support, the legislation has not even been given a hearing in this partisan Congress. The time has come for common sense legislation to break the logjam. A growing group of county commissioners, sportsmen, conservationists and energy leader have joined forces to show that with truly bi-partisan support, we can move sensible legislation forward during tough partisan times on Capitol Hill.

Our sportsman friends at Trout Unlimited are sharing the story of this effort through a video that tells the importance of sending money back to the communities hardest hit by energy development. We couldn’t tell the story better ourselves.