Federal regulators made final a rule Thursday overhauling how wind and solar power companies lease public land.
The rule from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) creates a competitive bidding process for the first time for renewable energy on federal land for oil, gas and coal companies use.
It also gives incentives for companies to put their wind turbines or solar panels in areas that do not conflict with wildlife, among other changes.
The rule is the first significant overhaul of wind and solar standards for federal land. Renewable energy was practically non-existent on federal land before 2009. The Obama administration sees the Thursday rule as a way to continue the industry’s growth.
“This new rule not only provides a strong foundation for the future of energy development on America’s public lands, but is an important and exciting milestone in our ongoing efforts to tap the vast solar and wind energy resources across the country,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.
“Through a landscape-level approach, we are facilitating responsible renewable energy development in the right places, creating jobs and cutting carbon pollution for the benefit of all Americans.”
Interior said the rule cements a “smart from the start” approach that aims to reduce conflicts with wildlife – like birds hitting wind turbines or tortoises having their habitats destroyed – before the permitting process begins.
“By offering incentives for development in areas with fewer resource conflicts, the BLM’s rule provides a framework to support all of the landscape scale planning we’ve done to better plan for and manage wind and solar development,” Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and mineral management, said in a statement.
It also furthers Interior’s goal of better capturing the “fair market value” for the energy produced on federal land – likely increasing costs for companies.
Since the rule is coming so late in the Obama administration, Congress could likely overturn it after President-elect Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20.
The rule has split environmentalists, who support it, and renewable energy companies, who opposed the 2014 proposal that led to it.
“The Obama administration has made renewable energy on public lands a reality, and this widely supported rule establishes a 21st-century program that balances clean energy development and conservation,” Alex Daue, assistant director for energy and climate at the Wilderness Society, said in a statement.
“It will ensure that best practices advanced by the Bureau of Land Management to develop wind and solar responsibly become standard across the west,” he said.
Before the final rule was released Thursday, the trade groups representing the wind and solar power industries were completely opposed to the proposal, saying it would increase their costs and uncertainty and make it harder for renewable energy companies to use public land.
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