American Land Agency Lagging Behind in Shift to Renewables: IEEFA

A new analysis by IEEFA stated that the Bureau of Land Management has lagged in responding to America’s shift to renewables in the national energy economy.

The Bureau of Land Management, the single biggest steward of real estate in the US, often finds itself in the crossfire of heated arguments over how best to use and/or protect the more than 250 million acres it is responsible for across the American West. The agency is supposed to see that its lands are managed in the national interest and in a way that meets a long list of responsible-use requirements.

Its lands are categorised to be used for land resource development – mostly logging, grazing, mining and gas and oil extraction — and in this arena, the agency has lagged in responding to America’s shift to renewables in the national energy economy. An overview by the agency published last year showed renewable energy development accounting for less than 1 percent of economic activity on BLM lands, while 70 percent was controlled by oil and gas interests.

As explained in a report IEEFA published earlier this year, the agency’s approach to utility-scale solar shows why. Less than 1 percent of BLM land across the sun-rich southwestern US— lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah — are qualified for solar energy development under BLM’s rules. Much more is potentially available under special variance rules — some 19 million acres out of the more than 100 million managed in the region — but those rules are a significant and an unevenly administered constraint on new solar development.

Read here: Utility-Scale Solar Remains Off-Limits Across Solar Rich Southwest US: IEEFA

The new analysis finds that there is some good news. The Shiprock Solar project, the case study that was cited to demonstrate the absurdity of the agency’s no-solar-development rules across most of its sunniest holdings, has since been greenlighted to advance. The proposed 372-megawatt solar farm, in the shadow of the soon-to-be-shuttered, coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico, can now proceed through the various requisite environmental impact and permit-study hoops.

However, IEEFA believes that the special approval of this and several other big solar projects in recent months does not fix the larger problem at the BLM; a better, more streamlined policy is required under a change that will need stronger leadership from Washington informed by the realities of where electricity-generation markets are moving.

“Variance proceedings are costly and slow, and the agency is long overdue for a rules adjustment that will open more BLM lands to renewable energy development without having to run a gauntlet of onerous rezoning requirements,” the analysis finds.

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Ayush Verma

Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.

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