Bright Future for Renewables on Public Lands

Lizard on a rock
The same rays this collared lizard at the Dominguez-Escalante NCA in Colorado soaks up could be used for solar energy on BLM lands. Photo by: Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management @mypubliclands
This week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctioned off its first lease in a designated Solar Energy Zone. The Dry Lake project in Nevada is the first of 19 identified sites to be auctioned, and a shining symbol of the potential for renewable development on public lands.

Congress can build on this momentum and give another jolt of energy to renewables on public lands. The sunny Southwest and winds of Wyoming can be harnessed for renewable energy to fight climate change, while also generating funding for conservation work.

The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act would be a win-win for wildlife and renewable energy development, but it needs your support to get the hearing in Congress it deserves.

This legislation would create a pilot program for solar and wind energy development on public lands. The revenue from these new projects would then go to local states, counties, and conservation work — a complete victory for communities, climate, and wildlife.

Renewables for Wildlife

Climate change already affects wildlife, and we need to act now to capitalize on renewable energy strategies.

  • Rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation are reducing forage for bighorn sheep, with 30 of 80 known populations in the Southwest disappearing.
  • Reduced snowpack and increased drought are decreasing habitat available in Nebraska for sandhill cranes during their migration.
  • The loss of whitebark pine in the Rockies places a stress on grizzly bears that use the cones from these trees as a food source.
Bighorn Sheep face threats from climate change and rely on public land for habitat. Source: flickr, BLM New Mexico
Bighorn Sheep face threats from climate change and rely on public land for habitat. (Bureau of Land Management photo Courtesy of Steven W. Martin Photography.) Source: Flickr, BLM New Mexico

If passed, this law would encourage development of solar, wind, and geothermal resources on public lands from the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, and use the royalties to create the Renewable Energy Resource Conservation Fund, helping local communities and conservation.

  • 25% to counties where wind and solar projects are sited
  • 25% to states where wind and solar projects are sited
  • 35% for fish and wildlife conservation and recreational access
  • 15% for permit processing

A project at the Salton Sea in California takes a similar approach. Funds from geothermal development there pay for air quality and habitat restoration. Representative Raul Ruiz calls this important initiative an “all-hands-on-deck” project, that needs support from the government and a broad range of stakeholders to succeed.

The landmark Dry Lake Solar Energy project also utilizes a mitigation strategy; this pilot collaborative effort takes a proactive approach to address any adverse impacts of energy development. Under this approach, the BLM will undertake projects on the nearby Gold Butte Area of Critical Environmental Concern to protect an important wildlife corridor, and include efforts to protect the threatened desert tortoise.

We can take these innovative approaches at a national level, but only if Congress takes action.

Pie chart
How revenue from renewable would be distributed under this law. Chart courtesy Resource Media.

Renewing the Push for Renewables

Support for this program crosses the aisle, with Westerners in both parties of Congress,  the Western Governors’ Association, and the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition supporting its passage. However, like many pieces of legislation, efforts to increase the pace of renewable energy development have fallen victim to the slow pace of Congress.

This month, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is likely to hold hearings on energy development and other public lands issues. Telling members of that committee that smart renewable energy development is at the top of your agenda will help put it on theirs.

Take Action!

Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s office.  Ask to speak to the member of the staff who works on environmental, agricultural or appropriations issues. Tell them you would like to see the Public Lands Renewable Development Act get the hearing it deserves.