Senate Bill Could Block Solar & Wind Projects in California

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) last week introduced a bill that she says will improve the federal permitting process to advance large-scale wind and solar development on suitable lands. But opponents argue that it will simply block renewable energy development on some federal lands in California.

The legislation, titled the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, would require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to establish offices specifically focused on renewable energy development in each state with significant wind and solar resources on public land.

These offices would be funded from the existing BLM permit improvement fund – a fund which is currently only available to supervise the permitting for oil and natural gas development. It would also establish a pilot mitigation bank program to ensure that it takes no longer to review an application to develop private lands than it does to develop public lands, without infringing upon important environmental regulations.

Under the bill, federal land managers will be required to identify renewable energy development areas where the project is in the public interest through the programmatic EIS process. This will help avoid the sort of site-specific environmental conflicts that can delay projects for years. 

It will also result in a formal evaluation of whether public land currently managed by the military will also be considered for solar development, instead of concentrating this development only on BLM land.  There are currently approximately 3 million acres of California desert that are managed by the military, and some of this land could be developed for renewable energy consistent with the military mission.

“I strongly believe that conservation, renewable energy development and recreation can and must co-exist in the California Desert,” Senator Feinstein said. “This legislation strikes a careful balance between these sometimes competing concerns.”

While all of that sounds good on paper, some in the renewable energy industry see the other provisions of the bill, which include setting aside more than 1 million acres of federal lands in California as “monuments,” as an attempt to block renewable energy installations in areas where the best resources exist.

The pending introduction of the legislation has already prompted a number of companies, including BrightSource Energy, to cancel or change development plans for projects slated for that area of California. will continue to track this bill and the industry reaction to it. Check back with us after the holidays.

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