Revenue from solar energy auction should be invested in conservation, local communities

The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act proposes to split revenue from renewable energy development between four buckets-- counties, states, conservation and toward a more efficient permitting process.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held its first successful auction for solar energy on public lands near Las Vegas on Monday, bringing in $5.8 million dollars in revenue.

Like a Saturday night at The Mirage, the bidding was fast paced and high stakes.

The BLM has a long history of hosting competitive auctions for oil and gas and, in those cases, a portion of the rents and royalties earned are distributed to the state where the lands are located and into conservation programs. This is not the case with renewable energy—the entirety of the $5.8 million brought in this week will be sent back to the general treasury. Things could change however if Congress passes the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act (HR. 596 / S. 279).

This common-sense measure ensures the rent and royalty distribution of funds collected for renewable energy development is similar to that of oil and gas. Additionally, the bill requires money be set aside specifically for conservation through the creation of a conservation fund.

The breakdown of the funding would be:

  • 25% to the state
  • 25% to the county
  • 15% to the BLM to increase permit application efficiency
  • 25-35% to the conservation fund (depending on the House or Senate version of the bill).


Paying back the land and local communities

Unfortunately, even after finding the best sites that avoid wildlands, it is difficult for the development of renewable energy on public land to be impact free. The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act will go a long way toward mitigating that impact by reinvesting in counties and conservation programs.

A conservation program could  include: fish and wildlife restoration, recreational access to public lands and trail repair.

Counties can use their portion of the royalties for projects like, improving infrastructure and responsibly planning for future development.

Because the potential benefit for local economies is strong, the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act has broad support from groups such as the National Association of Counties, Arizona Association of Counties and the Utah Association of Counties.


A new approach to energy development on public lands

The BLM, seeking to improve the way renewable energy is permitted, finalized their Western Solar Plan in 2012. The plan allowed permitting of future solar projects to proceed in a more efficient and environmentally friendly manner, establishing Solar Energy Zones (SEZs) and putting in place a competitive leasing program for those zones. The auction that occurred on in Nevada covers land parcels in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone and marks the second time the BLM has utilized such a competitive process.

The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act would expand competitive leasing – putting forward a pilot program that could further improve permitting of renewable energy in an environmentally responsible manner.

Ultimately, the combination of both additional funding and expedited permitting will allow this broadly supported bill to help transition the United States to a cleaner energy economy while simultaneously improving our public lands.


This piece was produced by Eli Lieberman.