Interior Department Changes will Spur Wind Power Development

Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced the completion of an environmental review that will allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to significantly expand its wind energy program on public lands while ensuring the conservation of threatened and endangered species and migratory birds.

With the publication of the record of decision on a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, BLM also is amending 52 land-use plans in nine western states to generate more than 3,200 MW of wind energy — enough to provide electricity for nearly 1 million homes. While changes in the land-use plans will speed development of wind energy, individual projects will still require site-specific analysis and permits. Nevertheless, BLM expects to be able to shorten the approval process for new wind energy projects from two or more years to less than a year. “We are taking an important step in diversifying and expanding America’s energy supply while conserving wildlife and its habitat,” Norton said. “We can conceivably produce six times more wind energy on BLM lands.” The Interior Department has made increasing alternative energy production on public lands one of its top priorities, Norton said. For example, over the last five years, BLM has issued 86 wind energy permits, compared to four issued in the previous five years. “The Department of the Interior has taken a major step forward for the future of U.S. wind energy and for America’s electricity consumers,” said Randall Swisher, American Wind Energy Association executive director. “The inclusive way in which these policies were created will help to ensure the responsible development on BLM land of a clean, domestic, and strategic energy source.” The Programmatic EIS establishes broad guidelines for BLM’s Wind Energy Development Program ensuring that the best management practices are used to avoid impacts to at-risk species and migratory birds. As part of the approval process, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion stating that the wind energy program would not jeopardize threatened or endangered species. BLM also incorporated guidelines to reduce the impact of wind energy production on birds, bats and other wildlife. The guidelines mitigate impacts related to noise, habitat fragmentation, collisions, ground disturbance, protection of riparian areas and wetlands, and other conservation issues. Wind energy accounts for only six percent of our nation’s renewable electricity generation and 0.1 percent of our total electricity supply. BLM currently has 22 wind energy development sites that produce 500 MWh of power. “Public lands offer enormous opportunities for environmentally sound renewable energy production,” Norton said. “We expect to see many new wind energy sites in coming years.” Land use plans define how public land resources will be managed within a specific planning area and establish restrictions on activities to be undertaken in that planning area. They are developed by BLM in conjunction with interested stakeholders and with ample opportunities for public comment. The land use planning process is the key tool used by BLM to protect resources and designate uses on public lands. The plans help ensure that the public lands are managed in accordance with applicable laws and regulations under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield; recognizing the nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber while protecting the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water, and archaeological values. BLM developed the Programmatic EIS in response to recommendations made in the President’s National Energy Policy, which encourages the development of renewable energy resources on public lands. The document is also consistent with congressional direction provided in the recently passed Energy Policy Act of 2005 related to renewable energy development on public lands. Work on the EIS began in October 2003 and included extensive community meetings in the West and opportunities for public comment. The document addresses wind-energy development on BLM-administered lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. BLM is not amending the land-use plans for Arizona and California because those states already are addressing wind energy locally.
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