Last Thursday, the Obama administration took a major step to encourage renewable energy development on federal lands throughout the Western US. At the moment, it takes anywhere from 18 months to two years for solar and wind developers to receive a permit to build renewable energy projects. But a new rule allowing a competitive bidding process, similar to oil and gas leases, could cut the time needed in half.
The competitive leases will not only make it easier for solar and wind projects to get started—it will also help the Bureau of Land Management get a fair market value for the land. Around 700,000 acres of public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah have been designated as suitable sites. These areas were selected due to the minimal impact development would have on wildlife habitats.
Renewable developers aren’t completely thrilled by the news. There have been some concerns that the new rule would increase costs. One internal study found it would increase rents and fees for wind projects, but decrease them for solar. Either way, it should make it easier for developers, who often are so discouraged by the waiting times for public land projects that they choose to build elsewhere.
Environmental groups are applauding the rule, saying it balances the need for solar and wind development with environmental conservation. It should come into effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register, which will happen sometime in the coming weeks.