The Interior Department does not have an adequate system for tracking the bond payments solar and wind-energy developers pay for building on federal land, according to a federal watchdog report released Tuesday.
The Government Accountability Office found Interior lacked the ability through two systems it manages to track the $100 million in bonds companies are required to provide as collateral to reclaim land disturbed by installing wind turbines and solar panels.
“GAO found that neither system is reliable for this purpose. Specifically, GAO found instances in both systems where information was missing or inaccurate, or had not been updated,” the report said.
Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee asked for the study. The committee is holding a hearing on the Obama administration’s federal lands renewable energy program Wednesday.
“Don’t let the shiny object distract you, this is part of a broader problem and emblematic of a bigger issue of stunning mismanagement that is plaguing the bureau,” said Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
The report acknowledged that Interior has issued a proposed rule to address the system for bonds. Steven Ellis, the deputy director for the Bureau of Land Management, said Interior concurred with four of five recommendations for record-keeping, data entry and review and partially agreed with the fifth – it disagreed on timing, as GAO requested entering a bond into the system within five days – to shore up the program.
“The [Bureau of Land Management] agrees that there are additional opportunities for improvement in the processing and record-keeping of bonds for wind and solar projects,” he wrote in response to the report.
The Obama administration has made boosting renewable energy generation on federal lands, which accounts for 1 percent of total U.S. electricity, part of its climate agenda.
President Obama has pledged to double renewable energy generated in the country by 2020. The federal government has permitted more than 10 gigawatts of new renewable power on federal land prior to 2012, enough to power 7 million homes, and set a goal for an additional 10 gigawatts by 2020.
But the watchdog found that one-third of wind and solar rights-of-way were under-bonded by up to $15 million and that whatever bonds are on file aren’t properly stored. Reviews of bonds are shoddy, with at least half of them four months overdue for a re-evaluation.
“In one [Bureau of Land Management] field office, a staff member told GAO that someone mistakenly shredded several bonds. BLM also does not consistently adhere to its policies calling for periodic review of wind and solar bond amounts to verify their adequacy,” the report said.
Ellis said a preliminary review “has not found evidence of the alleged shredding incident and can confirm that all of its bonds for renewable energy projects within the field office are adequately documented.”
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