U.S. Department of the Interior Pushes for Renewables

Scott Sklar’s October 28 article, “A Look at Bush Administration Policies Regarding Renewable Energy,” analyzed the broad policy picture painted by the Bush Administration with respect to renewable energy. While Sklar gave the now re-elected president poor marks on overall efforts to support renewable energy, there was a bright spot in his administration.

“Department of Interior and Agriculture – two agencies have stood out as strong backers of renewable energy at the political level,” Sklar said. Sklar outlined how Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Lugar established a renewable energy program within USDA (9006) and the political appointee to the Rural Utility Service, one of the largest federal loan programs (for agricultural cooperatives) has set-aside a multi-hundred million window for renewable energy projects. He then cited efforts made at the Department of the Interior. “Interior Secretary Norton led a very high profile program to remove barriers for renewable energy on federal lands – which could have high benefits for concentrated solar power, geothermal, hydropower, and wind farms – as well as distributed generations in parks, forest lands, and in Native American tribal lands,” Sklar said. Rebecca Watson, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, thought readers of RenewableEnergyAccess.com might be interested to know more about what was accomplished. There are some notable contrasts with the Clinton Administration. Here are some highlights from Watson: Wind: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued more than 60 wind energy permits since 2001 compared to just 9 in the last 4 years of the previous administration. We are currently proposing ways to expedite future wind projects in a program-wide environmental impact statement. As a result, installed wind energy capacity on public lands is expected to increase by 3,240 megawatts in 2025, enough to power close to a million households. Geothermal: We have issued more than 200 geothermal leases in the past 4 years, a ten-fold increase over the previous administration. Newly approved licenses for geothermal power plants on public lands in California alone will contribute an additional 100 megawatts of geothermal energy to our nation’s energy supply. Biomass: New authority allowing contractors to receive excess woody debris in exchange for performing restoration work has already produced 30,000 tons of biomass from BLM lands. The removal of this biomass will fuel energy production instead of wildland fires, while saving taxpayers money and protecting communities. Solar: A new solar energy policy directs BLM to proactively address potential solar development in land-use plans primarily in California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. This approach will avoid costly delays associated with amending these plans at a later date. The policy also requires consideration of solar power in the construction of new facilities, adding to the 650 Interior locations already powered by the sun. All Renewables: The Departments of Interior and Energy jointly published two GIS-based reports highlighting the best places for particular types of renewable energy development on public lands. I have directed BLM to use these reports and other relevant data to consider renewable energy development in all land-use plans under revision. — Rebecca Watson is the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior.

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