The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is poised for a massive expansion of wind and solar projects. At the time of our review, BLM had 29 of 31 authorized wind projects in operation, and 5 of 9 authorized solar projects under construction. Based on the number of wind-testing projects and wind and solar applications, wind projects may quadruple and solar projects may increase tenfold in the near future.
BLM has taken aggressive action to increase its capacity to process renewable energy grants for rights-of-way (ROW). BLM’s focus on increasing the number of renewable energy projects, however, has exposed some weaknesses in its management of these projects. Financial accountability and resource protection are integral to the renewable energy program. These include obligations to protect the Government’s financial interests by timely and accurately collecting rental revenues and managing the bonding process, and to protect the country’s natural resources by monitoring and enforcing grant requirements. Wind and solar projects can cover thousands of acres and therefore have the potential for biological, cultural, historical, paleontological, archaeological, and visual resource degradation. …
We reviewed BLM’s renewable energy activities to assess the effectiveness of BLM’s development and management of its renewable energy program. We found that BLM has opportunities to improve in developing and implementing renewable energy policies. For example, although BLM issued guidance on wind rental payments and wind bonding requirements, it did not establish a process to ensure timely implementation of the guidance. This resulted in a loss of $1.2 million in rental revenues on 22 wind projects from 2009 through 2011 and insufficient bonding by $8.5 million on 14 wind projects (see appendix 2). In addition, BLM has not developed and implemented Bureau-wide guidance on monitoring and inspecting wind and solar projects or for enforcing compliance with ROW requirements. We also found that BLM could potentially generate millions of dollars in additional revenues if it used a competitive bidding process.
We make nine recommendations to improve the long-term management of BLM’s renewable energy program. Our recommendations present opportunities for BLM to accurately collect rental revenues, manage the bonding process, monitor and ensure compliance with ROW requirements, and generate additional revenues by using a competitive bidding process for wind and solar ROW.
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