BLM mining proposal clouds future of federal renewables development in California
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed the Interior Department, its umbrella agency, should cancel the withdrawal of about 1.3 million acres of federal lands in Southern California from new mining contracts that resided within a designated area for renewable energy development, E&E News reports.
- A draft memo from acting BLM Director Mike Nedd said that at an estimated $4-6 million, conducting the environmental impact statement to evaluate the withdrawal would be too "cost-prohibitive," warranting the request for cancellation.
- The proposal throws doubt on the fate of California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, a joint state-federal effort to boost renewable energy development in the state's desert, and could signal the first step in dismantling federal participation in the project, E&E News notes.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke cast doubt over the use of federal lands for renewable energy development in a speech last month during Clean Energy Week.
Land used for solar farms is no longer useful for anything other than energy, he said, touting rooftop solar as a viable option instead.
Zinke: "Greatest opportunity for solar is roofs." Says land with solar "no longer usable," but "there are a lot of roofs."— Gavin Bade (@GavinBade) September 26, 2017
"If I see solar cells out on land, that land is no longer useful for anything else but energy, but there's a lot of roofs when you fly over," Zinke said. "And I think the greatest opportunity, quite frankly, for the solar industry is look at all the roofs in America."
His rhetoric departs dramatically from Obama-era efforts to curtail fossil-fuel development and use federal lands to boost renewable energy. An agency spokeswoman said Zinke was not suggesting solar energy development on federal lands should be abandoned, E&E News reports.
But this latest memorandum does align with the Trump administration's efforts to prioritize mining and fossil fuel production.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan encompasses 10.8 million acres of federal lands and was a seven-year effort to allocate land plots desirable for renewable energy development, while protecting the desert's natural resources and sensitive wildlife habitat. It was finalized in a record of decision at the end of December.
Approximately 390,000 acres were deemed acceptable for renewable energy development. The BLM also proposed to set aside 1.3 million acres to protect "nationally significant landscapes with outstanding cultural, biological, and scientific values," and removed them from new mining contracts for up to two years.
Zinke's comments about rooftop solar come as the residential solar market is facing headwinds in growth and battles over policies and incentives. A Google survey earlier this year found 79% of rooftops could accommodate solar arrays, with the biggest hotspots being Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.
But high volumes of distributed generation pose technical challenges for utilities. Some states are tackling broad grid modernization efforts to incorporate DG into utility planning processes.
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