A rule intended to streamline renewable energy development on federal lands was finalized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week — one of several climate and clean energy regulations expected to be released by the Obama administration before president-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.
The BLM says the rule strengthens existing policies and creates a new leasing program for solar and wind energy development that includes a competitive leasing processes and incentives. But both industries — wind and solar power — have raised concerns about the regulation.
As E&E News reports, the final rule has been under review since March, largely because of resistance from wind and solar. The industries didn’t like certain pieces of the rule, first proposed in September 2014, including rental rates, megawatt capacity fees, bonding rates, leasing fees and prescreened “zones” for renewables development that may not align with the location of the energy source.
The federal agency says the final rule addresses these concerns with changes to the way the megawatt capacity fees is calculated and a framework for how and when the BLM can change rental rates, which gives the industry more certainty. For example, it gives developers the option to lock in fixed-rate adjustments instead of market-based adjustments and provides for megawatt capacity fee phase-ins.
“This new rule not only provides a strong foundation for the future of energy development on America’s public lands, but is an important and exciting milestone in our ongoing efforts to tap the vast solar and wind energy resources across the country,” said US secretary of the interior Sally Jewell in a statement. “Through a landscape-level approach, we are facilitating responsible renewable energy development in the right places, creating jobs and cutting carbon pollution for the benefit of all Americans.”
Still, industry groups remain mixed on whether the regulation will help — or hurt — renewable energy development.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said it is still reviewing the rule. “But we hope this rule paves the way for increased solar development at predictable rates on public lands,” SEIA vice president of federal affairs, Christopher Mansour said. “BLM-managed land includes some of the world’s best solar resources.”
The wind industry’s trade group, on the other hand, said the final rule makes wind energy development on federal lands much less likely.
“Unfortunately, based on our preliminary review, this final rule makes federal lands even less attractive to wind energy developers,” said Tom Vinson, the American Wind Energy Association’s vice president of federal regulatory affairs. “This will add time, uncertainty, complexity and expense to a process that was already more difficult than developing on private lands. The rule penalizes projects pursued outside of designated zones, yet there are no designated zones for wind energy and there may not be for years. This discriminatory treatment places wind energy at a competitive disadvantage to energy sources that have such areas designated and can avail themselves of the incentives to develop in these areas.”
President Obama’s Climate Action Plan calls on the Interior Department to permit 20,000 megawatts of renewable power by 2020. Since 2009, the department has approved 60 utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands, including 36 solar, 11 wind and 13 geothermal projects.
The new renewable-energy leasing regulation is one of at least five energy and environmental rules the Obama administration will release in coming weeks — and that may be quickly reversed by Trump, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Interior Department is also working to finish an offshore oil and natural gas leasing plan; methane standards for oil and gas wells on public lands; and a stream protection rule for coal mining. Additionally, the EPA is expected to finalize the nation’s ethanol quota and renewable fuel blending requirements for next year.
“As I’ve mentioned to you before, we’re running — not walking — through the finish line of President Obama’s presidency,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a staff memo obtained by the Washington Examiner after Trump was declared the president-elect.
It also says the Trump administration will undo all of Obama’s coal regulations, including the Interior Department’s three-year moratorium on coal mining on federal land, which began at the beginning of the year, as well as the Waters of the US rule, which would expand the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act to include more small waterways and wetlands. And it promises to streamline the permitting process for “all energy projects.”