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Energy Department needs to push harder on energy development: Study

The Energy Department is not pulling its weight when it comes to developing energy on its own lands, according to a new study from the National Academies of Sciences issued Thursday.

On the other hand, the Interior Department, headed by Ryan Zinke, has led by example on that front, primarily on renewable energy development.

“While other government agencies, such as the Department of the Interior, have examined and marketed opportunities to promote renewable resource development on public lands, [the Department of Energy] appears to have done much less,” according to the report that was sponsored by the Energy Department. It said the Department of Energy, now led by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has the skills and technical ability to do a lot more.

“But with DOE’s depth and breadth of skills and technical capabilities with energy resources, it too could leverage such opportunities and play a major role in forging private-public partnerships in land development serving the national interest,” the study said.

The study showed that the agency has “varying degrees of responsibility” over 164 sites it manages across 32 states.

Paul DeCotis, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said if the Energy Department begins looking at energy development opportunities, it would help achieve the Trump administration’s “national objective of energy independence and greater national security.”

The energy push would also help generate revenue. “Development of such lands has the potential to turn idle properties into valuable income-generating assets,” DeCotis said. “With the most cost-effective resources developed at the most appropriate sites, [Department of Energy] lands can serve as a commercial and research hub for innovative energy technologies.”

But that effort should not include coal or uranium mining. The Department of Energy “should eliminate fossil and uranium resource sites from further consideration for development when compelling factors exist related to current and foreseeable use, and the environmental, legal or other factors that tend to be associated with developing those resources.”

On top of that, there are “limited opportunities” for oil and natural gas development on Energy Department lands due primarily “to the size of the property needed for development.”

The study recommended an expanded analysis to consider solar energy. “In follow-on work, DOE should conduct an expanded analysis of solar photovoltaic and solar thermal that goes beyond [costs] to consider technical, economic and market potential,” according to a summary.

Wind energy would also require more study that examines how much federal subsidies factor into potential projects. “DOE should perform a sensitivity study that illustrates the potential for wind development on DOE-managed lands that addresses federal incentives such as investment tax credits, production tax credits, and renewable energy credits,” the summary read.

Other renewable resources like geothermal power plants, the study defers to a study from the Colorado School of Mines, which showed “relatively limited potential for geothermal development on the [Energy Department] sites evaluated.”

“The committee believes that DOE management, including at the leadership at the secretary level, could provide the appropriate direction and funding to pull together the full range of DOE programs and offices to help realize the potential value of energy development on DOE-managed lands,” DeCotis said.