Locating Renewable Energy Sources: A Trump Era Proposal Worth Safeguarding
Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a proposal aimed at facilitating the development of renewable energy projects on BLM-managed lands in Southern California. The renewable energy industry should take time to show the Biden administration why this is a Trump-era regulatory change that needs to be pushed forward if climate change mitigation is truly a priority.
The proposal aims in part to address longstanding renewable energy industry concerns regarding too many acres off the table when BLM adopts 2016’s 10 million-acre Desert Renewable Conservation Plan (DRECP). The proposed revision to the plan facilitates the positioning of solar projects on BLM lands in California by increasing the number of areas open for development and revising or removing some of the stricter conservation management actions (CMAs) that seriously impede development even within the DRECP’s designated Development Focal Areas.
DRECP was initially proposed to cover 22.5 million acres of public and private land in the southern part of the state, including some of the best solar and wind energy sources in the country. When California states specifically refused to sign the DRECP, the BLM nevertheless continued to adopt the plan to the extent that it was implemented on nearly 10 million acres of BLM-managed land in September 2016.
Originally presented as a tool for streamlining endangered species to allow wind and solar projects on public and private lands, DRECP was welcomed coldly from the renewable energy industry because it left essentially no land for potential wind development, potentially just under 400,000 acres. solar development and the rest were preserved.
DRECP reduced the amount of land available for solar energy development by more than 50% under BLM’s 2012 Western Solar Plan. And even those milestones that remain open to improvement are subject to hundreds of CMAs that are extremely difficult to satisfy when implemented collectively at the project level.
This has had a profound deterrent effect: The vast majority of solar projects permitted within the DRECP to date are projects that diverge from it.
It will be important for the renewable energy industry to explain to Biden management that DRECP is not a mid-road compromise as many environmental NGOs claim. The reform proposed by BLM for DRECP is a “midnight arrangement” that should not be left to die on the vine, whatever its initial flaws. It’s one of the few federal regulatory proposals over the past four years that, with a little work, could help bring the United States back to the right-hand side of history.
Public comments will be posted until April 14. If you have any questions, contact [email protected]
Andrew Bell is managing partner of Bell Kearns Ltd., a US News rated law firm specializing in allowing large-scale energy projects in the west of the United States.