Funding increases will be provided for renewable energy projects on federal public lands under the Department of the Interior.PALM SPRINGS, California, 2002-01-31 [SolarAccess.com] Funding increases will be provided for renewable energy projects under the Department of the Interior. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton says two department agencies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), will receive increased funding for renewable energy in the President’s FY 2003 budget proposals. The announcement, which is a small part of the department’s budget proposal to be released in February, came during a tour of a wind site on BLM land near Palm Springs by Norton and deputy secretary Steven Griles. As part of the Administration’s efforts to expand solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy on public lands, the federal budget will call for increasing BLM funding by US$350,000 to improve access for geothermal energy leasing in California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon and New Mexico. The budget request will also include an increase of $500,000 for USGS to produce improved and updated information on geothermal energy. “These increases are only a few of the features of the department’s FY 2003 budget request that will promote renewable energy and conservation,” says Norton. “We must explore ways to better capture the sun’s light, the sky’s winds, the land’s bounty, and the earth’s heat to provide energy security for America’s families.” The Interior Department currently leases, permits and licenses most of the government’s renewable energy. For example, the site visited by Norton is on land administered by BLM’s California Desert District, which has 2,960 wind turbines installed outside Palm Springs. The budget announcement follows a renewable energy summit convened by Norton and energy secretary Spencer Abraham in Washington last November, where critics said the government placed delays and roadblocks in the way of renewable energy. Within the next few months, Norton and Abraham will release more recommendations to the President on expediting renewable energy projects on public lands. The budget increases will double what the Interior Department plans to spend this year on geothermal activities, when its budget for geothermal energy activities in 2002 contained only $300,000 for leasing activities. “It’s a high priority of the administration and the Interior Department to invest new resources into geothermal production,” a department official is quoted as saying. Last year, BLM’s Nevada office received numerous applications to lease BLM land for geothermal drilling. Nevada state has major sources of untapped underground steam reserves, but industry officials say the bureaucracy to obtain a permit costs time and money that most companies cannot afford. “This is a beginning,” says Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association. The new budget suggests a renewed interest in alternative energy on the part of the Bush administration, and Gawell says “I think we’re seeing some follow-through.” He adds that, since the energy summit, key department staff have started to address backlog problems for launching new geothermal power plants in the west. Nevada has nine operating geothermal plants, providing 200 MW of electricity to 200,000 homes in Nevada and California.