by Jessica Goad
The Department of the Interior announced yesterday that is has approved 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects on public lands. This meets a goal expressed by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and reiterated by President Obama in this year’s State of the Union address of authorizing 10,000 megawatts of non-hydro renewable energy on public lands by 2015.
From the Interior Department’s announcement:
Since 2009, Interior has authorized 33 renewable energy projects, including 18 utility-scale solar facilities, 7 wind farms and 8 geothermal plants, with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure that will enable the projects to connect to established power grids. When built, these projects will provide more than 10,000 megawatts of power, or enough electricity to power more than 3.5 million homes, and would support an estimated 13,000 construction and operations jobs according to project developers.
The goal was reached after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the next step in the environmental review process for the 3,000 megawatt Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project in Wyoming. While the project has now been certified as “available” for wind development, it must still undergo broad environmental review and site-specific analysis before it can be permitted and built.
The approval of 33 renewable energy projects on public lands is laudable, especially considering that only a handful of wind and geothermal (and no solar) projects were operating on public lands before this administration took office. And yet, as some observers have noted, permitting on a project-by-project basis has proven difficult and cumbersome. A number of projects have been litigated, and others have stalled.
This administration is moving towards a more holistic renewable energy program, as seen for example in its design of a solar program that incentivizes development in zones that have been screened to have high solar resources and fewer conflicts.
But more can be done. For example, the Center for American Progress has called for a “clean resources standard” that would set a more aggressive target for renewable energy projects on public lands. Now that the goal of 10,000 megawatts has been achieved, the administration can begin to think about setting another. A clean resources standard that re-balances renewable energy and fossil fuels on public lands could be the next step.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.