With the clock running out on its term, the Obama administration moved to make hundreds of thousands of hectares of U.S. public lands in six western states more easily accessible to wind and solar energy developers, instituting a new bidding process modeled on existing protocols for oil and gas leases.
The rule will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, likely around the same time President-elect Trump is inaugurated. His new administration will be free to rescind it.
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The new system is expected to cut in half the time it takes to secure permits for a renewable project on federal land, now up to two years, Reuters reports. It will do that in part by pre-designating certain areas as suitable for renewable development.
The move to competitive leases was accompanied by the designation of some 283,000 hectares of land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, “where projects will have the least impact on wildlife habitats,” the news agency notes. “Developers will receive financial incentives to site projects in those areas.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has set a target of 20,000 megawatts of renewable electricity generation from public lands–enough to power about seven million homes—by 2020. “We are facilitating responsible renewable energy development in the right places, creating jobs and cutting carbon pollution for the benefit of all Americans,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
The new policy was also designed to raise the rents the U.S. receives for the use of public land for renewable energy generation, Reuters reports, though the effects may be felt unequally by different producers. According to one government study the news report cites, “the rule will generally increase rents and fees for wind projects, and decrease them for solar projects.”
Public land access has been a politicized issue in the United States, prompting some in Congressmen to try to ban its leasing for fossil fuel development, as well a series of occupations in western states led by militia-style ranchers who have challenged federal administration of the land.