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Tester pitches bill for renewable energy leasing on federal lands

A bill to allow wildlife-friendly renewable energy leasing on public lands languishes in Congress, but Sen. Jon Tester hopes local support might get it moving this summer.

Tester, D-Mont., pitched the bill to about 40 people at the Missoula Public Library on Wednesday. The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act also has support from junior Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., and Rep Steve Daines, R-Mont.

“Now we just need to figure out how to sell it back in Washington, D.C.,” Tester said. Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller is also a co-signer, but the bill stalled when others in the Senate blocked a larger package of energy-efficiency legislation on May 12.

The bill would make it easier for wind and solar energy developers to lease public land for their installations. It would provide money for agencies like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to inventory acreage that doesn’t have wildlife conflicts or work on ways to reduce those problems. And it would ensure that royalties from the energy projects go to local and state governments for local services.

“We have not leased any public lands,” said Gaelectric North America vice president Van Jamison, referring to the wind energy farms his firm builds. “The system is incredibly constipated. And we get more than one level of risk exposure. The regulatory process is a cost center, and there are time delays. To put several new balls in the air is not inviting when you’re a developer.”

Nick Gevock of the Montana Wildlife Federation said while petroleum-based energy development has a range of environmental issues to deal with, renewable energy like wind and solar mainly face wildlife conflicts.

“This would do a lot to help with smart planning,” Gevock said. “It would give the industry certainty.”

Tester said he wanted to get the bill a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If it can clear that hurdle, it could be considered by the full Senate as a stand-alone measure or an amendment to a larger legislative package.

“There is resistance toward renewable energy in Washington, D.C.,” Tester told the audience. “Some feel threatened by it, and others don’t like the subsidies it gets. And some people just stop things because that’s what they do.”

The complete text of the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/222441348/Tester-s-bipartisan-Public-Land-Renewable-Energy-Development-Act