Montana--Yellowstone River
Montana--arrow-leaf balsam root Montana--antelope Montana--fisherman Montana--Pompeys Pillar
BLM>MT/DK Home>Energy>Renewable Energy
Print Page

Renewable Energy

Secretarial Order 3285 (March 11, 2009) facilitates the Department of the Interior's efforts to achieve the goal Congress established in Section 211 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005: to approve non-hydropower renewable energy projects on the public lands with a generation capacity of at least 10,000 megawatts of electricity by 2015.  For additional information on BLM’s national renewable energy efforts, visit the BLM's national renewable energy webpage.

To help achieve this goal, the BLM Montana/Dakota’s formed a Renewable Energy Team (RET) in late 2010 to facilitate the development of renewable energy projects in a responsible manner on BLM-administered public lands in Montana and the Dakotas. Funding is also being used to improve information on golden eagles in high potential wind areas as well as to conduct an intensive cultural inventory to facilitate future siting.  Our current emphasis in the three-state area is on the potential for development of wind resources.    


Wind  -- Biomass  -- Solar  -- Geothermal  -- Transmission  -- Hydro

wind  Wind  

Wind power uses the naturally occurring energy of the wind for practical purposes such as generating electricity, charging batteries, and pumping water.  Wind turbines capture the kinetic energy in the wind, converting it into electrical energy.  Utility-scale turbines are mounted on tall towers, usually 200 feet or more above the earth's surface where the wind is faster and less turbulent.  In utility-scale power applications, anywhere from one or two to several hundred turbines are connected to the utility grid, providing electricity when the wind blows.

Wind energy accounts for six percent of renewable electricity generation and 0.1 percent of total electricity supply.  However, advances by research labs, universities, utilities, and wind energy developers have cut wind energy's costs by more than 80 percent during the last 20 years. The industry is poised for continued growth.  In the U.S., abundant energy potential can be found in the Northeast, the Great Plains, and the West.

The BLM completed a National Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in June 2005 to address the impacts of future development of wind energy resources on public lands. Land use plans in Montana were amended upon signing of the Record of Decision in December 2005; North Dakota and South Dakota were not included in this analysis.  The major outcome of this initiative for the Montana/Dakotas was the development best management practices to be applied when considering the authorization of wind energy testing and development applications, as well as excluding some lands such as wilderness study areas and areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) from development.

More recently, on a national scale, the BLM published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on December 29, 2011, regarding competitive leasing for solar and wind development. BLM is anticipating development of proposed rule to be relased for public comment sometime in 2013.

Click on the link for more information about BLM's national wind energy program.

In the past, wind energy companies have expressed interest in BLM lands in Montana in the vicinity of Bridger, Whitehall, and Glasgow.  While test sites have yielded promising results, no wind farm development applications have been submitted in the last few years.  Several factors play into wind energy development, including transmission challenges, federal and state tax policy and incentives, the economic climate, and issues and concerns over resource values and social impacts.  

A number of new wind farms have been developed on private lands along the I-15 corridor in northwestern Montana in proximity to the recently approved Montana Alberta Tie Line (MATL) transmission project.  Projects continue to be proposed all across Montana in a number of counties.  However, the distance from current transmission infrastructure continues to be a challenge for wind developers in Montana, and grid capacity is also be a limiting factor.  Currently, the only wind facility authorized on BLM lands in the Montana/Dakotas is in South Dakota, where Wind Quarry LLC holds a right-of-way grant for two meteorological test towers in Butte County, east of Belle Fourche. 

Other Links: Montana Energy Promotion and Development Division 

 Wind Energy Development in South Dakota

  biomass  Biomass

Biomass is considered any organic material (such as plant material or animal waste).  Biomass can be used as a fuel source to produce energy.  Biomass is usually generated from public lands as a by-product of other actions an agency is taking.  The Montana/Dakotas BLM produces biomass through various forestry, fuel hazard reduction, and range improvement projects.  However, biomass is often left on-site in the form of chips or piles of woody material due to limited demand and markets and/or costs of transportation. 

There is a good supply of biomass resulting from forest and woodland restoration treatments, especially in the Western Montana District, but challenges continue to be the lack of generation facilities and infrastructure in proximity to available feedstock, resulting in steep transportation costs. The Western Montana District has actively partnered with the Montana Fuels for Schools program through an assistance agreement to facilitate use of what is generally considered waste material as a renewable energy source to help heat schools.  Within 100 miles of Butte, there are four biomass boiler heating systems at public schools and on one college campus, with two additional boiler projects under development.  At present, it appears use of biomass to generate heat is more feasible and economic than the production of electricity.  

There has been no interest to date in location of a biomass energy generation facility on BLM-administered lands in the Montana/Dakotas. 

Click on the link for more information about BLM's national biomass program

 solar  Solar

The Bureauwide Programmatic Solar EIS (draft released December 2010) does not address lands in the Montana/Dakotas given their relatively low solar insolance value.  Values greater than or equal to 6.0 kWh/m2/day are favored by current technology to warrant commercial scale development.  However, small scale, project-specific applications may be viable and are pursued by field offices on a case-by-case basis (solar pumps on wells, etc.). 

Click on the link for more information about BLM's national solar energy program.

geothermal  Geothermal

The Geothermal Steam Act of 1970, as amended (84 Stat, 1566; 30 U.S.C. 1001-1025), provides the Secretary of the Interior with the authority to lease public lands and other federal lands, including National Forest lands, for geothermal exploration and development in an environmentally sound manner.  This authority has been delegated to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  The BLM implements the Act through the regulations contained in 43 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 3200.

In December 2008, a Record of Decision was issued based on analysis in a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to make more than 190 million acres of federal land in 12 western states available for development of geothermal energy resources, an initiative that could increase electric generation capacity from geothermal resources 10 times over.  The plan identified about 118 million acres of BLM–managed public lands and 79 million acres of National Forest System lands for future geothermal leasing.  It also provided a list of appropriate stipulations to be applied to leases and amended 122 Bureau of Land Management land use plans to allow for geothermal development, including land use plans in Montana (North and South Dakota were not included in the analysis). For details about the PEIS, visit the project website

A lease is the first step for a company or individual before eventually applying to develop and produce geothermal resources. Additional planning, environmental analysis and public input must occur before drilling can begin.  For more information about geothermal leasing on public lands please visit the BLM's national geothermal webpage

There are no geothermal leases or current activity within the Montana/Dakotas BLM, and only one nomination for a geothermal lease has occurred over the past 18 years.  Geothermal resources in Montana exhibit lower temperatures than those necessary for large scale energy development (i.e., 200°F rather than 400°F), though occasional inquiries are still received from industry regarding the status of leasing in Montana, with the greatest interest expressed in western Montana.  Technology to use hot water byproduct to generate electricity to run pumping rigs continues to be tested at oil well operations in eastern Montana. 

Frequently Asked Geothermal Leasing Questions (PDF) 
Geothermal Final PEIS 
Geothermal Final PEIS FAQs (PDF) 

  transmission  Transmission

Generating energy is only one aspect of developing renewable energy resources on the public lands; the energy must be delivered to the marketplace.  BLM-managed lands can play a key role in expanding pipeline and powerline capacity while protecting and conserving other resources found on the land.

The lack of power transmission infrastructure continues to be a challenge in the development of renewable energy sources. 

The BLM and the Department of Energy (DOE) in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service (FS) designated 6,100 miles of energy transport corridors on federal lands in the 11 western states, known as Section 368 Energy Corridors, as part of the West-Wide Energy Corridor Programmatic EIS.  Of the 236 miles designated on federal lands in Montana, only 56 of those miles cross BLM-administered land, with the remainder located on Forest Service property. No corridors were designated in North Dakota or South Dakota as a result of this study.  For details about the PEIS, visit the project website at West-wide Energy Corridor designation.  

  hydro  Hydro Energy

Hydroelectric power (hydropower) is created by running water from a reservoir through a hydraulic turbine that spins and drives a generator shaft to create electricity.  The distance between the water’s sources to its outflow (called the “head”) is a major factor when determining a site’s potential for hydroelectric generation. T he greater the elevation change, the greater the potential for power generation.  Hydropower facilities are useful for power regulation purposes (keeping supply and demand in balance), and restoring a grid after a blackout. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “large hydropower” refers to facilities that have an energy generation capacity of more than 30 megawatts.  Unlike small-scale hydro, large facilities are typically more capital-intensive and require the construction of some, if not all, of the following: dams, impoundments, powerhouses, and transmission lines. 

New hydropower facilities may directly or indirectly affect BLM-administered lands, generally through rights-of-way actions, alterations in stream flow and riparian habitat, or other resource impacts.  Even though hydropower provides a clean source of energy, there are potential environmental impacts.  Hydropower projects have the potential to alter stream temperature, flow, and aquatic and riparian habitats.  Project proponents that want to develop such facilities that may affect BLM administered lands must complete the appropriate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis to address cumulative effects.
Hydropower projects on BLM lands generally require licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which consults with BLM on terms and conditions during initial permitting and re-licensing of facilities. There are currently no new hydropower applications that affect BLM lands in Montana and the Dakotas.  As a result of an increase in wind energy generation, applications for new small-scale hydropumping projects may see an increase as a technology to help “firm” variable wind resources.