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Renewable Energy Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the BLM involved with renewable energy?

The BLM manages millions of acres of public lands in the California Desert.  These lands have some of the highest solar energy potential in the world, and can play a key role in meeting California's clean energy needs.  The federal government has prioritized renewable energy on public lands, and the BLM has responded by approving nearly 20 solar, wind, and geothermal projects involving public lands in California between 2010 and mid 2014.

Is the BLM proposing these projects?

No.  Private companies apply to the BLM for a right-of-way to use public lands for a specific period of time, usually 30 years.  The BLM reviews these applications and adds requirements to limit environmental impacts.  If an application is approved, the private company is responsible for building, operating and decommissioning the project.

Is the BLM using taxpayer money to process these applications?

No.  Applicants must pay a processing fee that covers staff time and contract work related to their application. 

What is the BLM's involvement once it approves a renewable energy project?

When the BLM approves a project, it includes various requirements that the developer must meet in order to reduce the project's environmental harm.  To make sure these requirements are carried out, the BLM or a third party approved by the BLM will monitor construction.  If a third party contractor does the monitoring, the contractor sends regular reports to the BLM.  If a serious violation is made, the BLM may halt construction.

What kind of return do the American people get for the use of their public lands?

The BLM requires renewable energy developers to pay rent each year for the use of public lands.  This rent is based on the amount of land the project uses and the energy it produces.  The money goes to the U.S. Treasury.  The BLM also holds a bond to ensure that the public lands can be restored after a project is decommissioned.

Why is the BLM considering such big projects instead of rooftop solar and other "distributed generation?"

Utility scale renewable energy should be considered a partner, rather than a competitor, with small scale or "distributed" renewable energy.  Both scales will be needed to meet California's future energy needs.  The BLM only has authority over the land it manages, which is appropriate for large scale solar and wind.  The state of California, on the other hand, is actively promoting small scale renewable energy, hoping to reach 12,000 megawatts of distributed generation by 2020.  The BLM's efforts will work in tandem with the state's to meet California's long term clean energy needs.

What is the BLM doing to ensure renewable energy projects are developed in appropriate places on public lands?

To date, the BLM has considered applications where they have been proposed by private companies.  The BLM has issued policy guidance to prioritize applications that will have fewer environmental impacts.

The BLM is also planning for renewable energy, identifying areas that are better suited for  development.  The BLM has worked with the Department of Energy on a Western Solar Plan.  The plan, finished in late 2012, designated priority zones for solar energy development on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

In addition, the BLM is partnering with other federal and state agencies to develop a Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) for California.  The plan will identify low conflict areas for renewable energy that will benefit from an easier permitting process.  The plan will also protect important habitat for desert plants and animals.  The DRECP's end result will be a roadmap for where development should and should not occur in the desert to ensure California can meet its renewable energy goals with the least environmental harm. 

What can I, as a member of the public, do to participate in the process?

The public has opportunities to participate in the BLM's environmental review of renewable energy applications through the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process.  For more information on NEPA and public involvement, visit the Council on Environmental Quality's Citizen's Guide to NEPA.