Bill Would Introduce Renewables Leasing on Public Lands

Representative Mike Thompson | Photo: Courtesy office of Mike ThompsonAs the renewable world's attention is focused on the release of Interior's Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for solar on public lands in the west, two western members of the House of Representatives have just introduced legislation that would force the Interior Department to become even more aggressive in siting renewable energy on public lands.

The bill, H.R. 6154 a.k.a. the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act of 2012, was introduced July 19 by Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

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If enacted, the bill would compel the Secretary of the Interior to identify four specific parcels to be developed for wind and solar within 180 days, and to sell leases for those parcels. The law, which also extends 2005 Energy Act funding for geothermal until 2020, is intended to be a pilot program to make renewables permitting more like public land oil and gas lease sales.

The bill would also establish royalties calculated as a percentage of the value of power produced on the site, and direct half the funds raised to the state and county hosting each development.

Rep. Thompson, a conservative California Democrat whose 1st Congressional District covers the north coast counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and Yolo, claims that his bill would "streamline" the current federal permitting process for public lands renewables. "This bill is good for our economy, our national security and our environment," he said. "It will spur job growth, grow our energy sector, support conservation and help us pay down our deficit."

The bill contains a few safeguards to help make sure non-qualified bidders don't get involved: bidders must display competency in the technology being proposed and have the funds to back up development. In this climate of financially faltering solar companies, that may prove a very high bar.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources for further study and markup. Thompson and Gosar's bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Fresno-area Representative Jim Costa, as well as Mike Coffman (R-CO), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Michael Simpson (R-ID), and Scott Tipton (R-CO).

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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