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Feds hope to speed up permits for renewable energy projects

Continuing to push for utility scale renewable energy projects, the Obama administration said this week it will seek expedited review and approval for seven wind and solar projects that would generate a total of 5,000 megawatts of electricity – providing enough power for about 1.5 million homes.

The federal Office of Management and Budget is charged with overseeing the government-wide effort to make the permitting more efficient, with a target date of October, 2014 for completing the federal permitting for the projects in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Wyoming under a March, 2012 executive order.

Almost at the same time, the Department of Interior and Department of Defense announced an agreement aimed at ncouraging appropriate development of renewable energy projects on public lands set aside for defense-related purposes, and other onshore and offshore areas near military installations.

Most of the projects are already under review and have been announced individually, including the Moapa Solar Energy Center in Nevada, a project being developed in cooperation with the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians on a 2,000 acre site on the Moapa River Indian Reservation and on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Clark County, Nevada.

Federal officials hope to complete permitting for the Moapa photovoltaic project by December 2012, to generate 100 megawatts of electricity in one of the first large-scale solar projects on tribal lands in the U.S.

In Arizona, the administration is pushing to complete permitting for the proposed BP Mojave wind power facility to produce 425 megawatts of electricity and the Quartzite Solar Energy project for another 100 megawatts.

The largest project targeted for expedited approval is the Chokecherry/Sierra Madre Wind Energy project in Carbon County, Wyoming that could produce about 3,000 megawatts of electricity – enough to power about 1 million homes. The Wyoming facility would be the largest wind farm in the country. The Chokecherry approval process is multi-tiered, including a land use plan decision anticipated in October 2012, followed by review of a series of right-of-way applications through 2014.

The partnership between the Interior and Defense departments aims to harness proven solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy resources on or near military installations across the country, perhaps reducing the Defense Department’s $4 billion annual power bill.

“Our nation’s military lands hold great renewable energy potential, and this partnership will help ensure that we’re tapping into these resources with a smart and focused approach to power our military, reduce energy costs, and grow our nation’s energy independence,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a press release.

“Developing renewable energy is the right thing to do for national security as well as for the environment and our economy,” said Defense Secretary Panetta. “Renewable energy projects built on these lands will provide reliable, local sources of power for military installations; allow for a continued energy supply if the commercial power grid gets disrupted; and will help lower utility costs.”

Military installations are spread across about 28 million acres, with 13 million in the West, rich in wind, solar and geothermal resources. Offshore wind also is an abundant renewable energy resource available to many DoD installations on the Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, Gulf of Mexico and in Hawaii. Offshore Atlantic winds alone could produce an estimated 1,000 gigawatts of energy.

Under the agreement, the agencies explore how renewable energy could be provided directly to a single installation or transmitted across a network of DoD installations. Some larger projects could involve the sale of excess power to the grid, provided appropriate measures ensure base security.