POCATELLO, Idaho – The Bureau of Land Management wants local people’s opinions on how to make itself more competitive when it comes to solar and wind energy projects. The BLM has started a 60-day comment period to figure out how to create a competitive bidding system for those projects, where land would be leased to the highest bidder.
The construction of wind farms in southeastern Idaho has been a controversial process, whether those farms are built on private or public lands or not. BLM spokesman David Quick said this may make that process a little less controversial by taking bids from companies to make the building process competitive.
“It’s been sort of a – people have just been able to put in applications on land with just submitting paper. And at this point, to have to bid and to have to really give serious (consideration to where farms go), it would help focus (the process),” Quick said.
That focus should benefit local people and the environment, Quick said.
The BLM is hoping this gives the agency more control when it comes to managing natural resources, such as how close a turbine can be to a sage-grouse habitat. But that question of resources is an important one. The competition could create an unintended economic incentive, said attorney Douglas Balfour.
“Well it could very well force many of the development back on to private lands,” Balfour said.
Balfour has worked on many of the private wind farm deals and the public transmission line deals in Power County, where many companies look to build. The expensive environmental studies and regulations companies have to meet on public lands, coupled with a competitive bidding process, might not make the land worth the price, Balfour said.
“Right now the BLM rates for a lease on a right-of-way are very, very cheap, so they’re very attractive. But on the other hand, you have to understand what they have to go through to get that right-of-way,” he said.
And the BLM will be setting up different restrictions based on regional resources, so hoops companies have to jump through will change from area to area, based on what people have to say.
“Yes, absolutely, absolutely – it’s very specific. As far as specific resources, our land managers on the ground for the BLM are our source for that, and also the local community for input,” Quick said.
Despite the numbers of restrictions involved, this could easily go the other way, Balfour said. A lot of the best private sites in the area have already been taken, and that could force wind developers to look to more at public land, reversing the incentive effect and making the process even more competitive, he said.
Call the Idaho state office at 208-373-4060 for more information on how to comment. The deadline for public comment is Feb. 27.
The BLM is looking for answers to the following questions: 1. How should a competitive process be structured for leasing lands within designated solar and wind energy development leasing areas? 2. Should a competitive leasing process be implemented for public lands outside of designated solar and wind energy development leasing areas? If so, how should such a competitive leasing process be structured? 3. What competitive bidding procedures should the BLM adopt? 4. What is the appropriate term for a competitive solar energy ROW lease? 5. What is the appropriate term for a competitive wind energy ROW lease? 6. Should nomination fees be established for the competitive process? If so, how should the fees be determined? 7. How should the bidding process for competitive solar and wind energy ROW leases be structured to ensure receipt of fair market value? 8. Should a standard performance bond be required for competitive solar and wind energy ROW leases and how should the bond amount be determined? 9. What diligent development requirements should be included in competitive solar and wind energy ROW leases?
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