Initial Screening and Prioritization for Solar and Wind Energy Applications and Nominations/Expressions of Interests

IM 2022-027
Instruction Memorandum

United States Department of the Interior
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
https://www.blm.gov

March 17, 2022

In Reply Refer To:
2800 (HQ-350) P
 

EMS TRANSMISSION 04/12/2022
Instruction Memorandum No. 2022-027
Expires:  09/30/2025

To:                              All Field Office Officials

From:                          Assistant Director for Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management

Subject:                       Initial Screening and Prioritization for Solar and Wind Energy Applications and Nominations/Expressions of Interests

Program Area:          Rights-of-Way Management, Solar and Wind Energy. 

Purpose: The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to clarify initial screening measures and standardized prioritization methodologies for solar and wind right-of-way (ROW) grant applications and ROW lease nominations on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This IM is intended to facilitate accelerated decision-making for those solar and wind energy development projects with the greatest technical and financial feasibility and the least anticipated natural and cultural resource conflicts, in order to provide consistency and reduce speculative workloads for BLM staff and management.

Administrative or Mission Related:  Mission.

Policy/Action: This IM related to screening and prioritization of solar and wind applications is intended to maintain program consistency. Any step-down policy regarding screening and prioritization for wind and solar applications or nominations should be coordinated with the BLM Headquarters Renewable Energy Program. The BLM’s objective is to facilitate solar and wind projects with the greatest technical and financial feasibility and the least anticipated natural and cultural resource conflicts on BLM-administered lands. As of the date of this IM, all new solar and wind energy project proposals, including solar and wind generation project proposals that qualify as “covered projects” under Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST-41), shall be screened and prioritized in accordance with this policy. The BLM’s screening and prioritization determination should be identified in the development of the Coordinated Project Plan (CPP) for FAST-41 covered projects and project priority ranking should be accounted for and reflected in the CPP schedule.

When a proponent requests to meet with the BLM prior to submitting an application (pre-application meeting), the BLM Manager should clarify that the objectives for the pre-application meetings are to identify potential environmental and siting constraints and to clarify where public lands may not be available for proposed wind and solar energy development. As appropriate, the BLM should discuss potential alternative siting locations, discuss timeframes for application processing, inform the applicants of financial obligations in processing an application, and alert the potential applicant of any anticipated coordination needs with Tribes and other Federal, state, or local government agencies. The BLM should also alert the potential applicant of any anticipated needs for resource studies associated with the proposal, such as environmental surveys for wildlife or cultural resources, visual resource assessments, or other potential coordination and information needs, such as early discussions with potentially affected grazing permittees. The BLM should seek to achieve these pre-application objectives within one formal pre-application meeting, but not more than two formal meetings. BLM staff may confer with applicants informally in order to prepare for formal pre-application meetings. The BLM should ensure that pre-application activities including both formal and informal meetings are documented and incorporated into any decision file.

After the BLM receives an application and the required regulatory fees, the Bureau may elect to schedule additional meetings with the applicant. During post-application meetings, the BLM may provide recommendations to the applicant regarding potential modifications to its proposal to avoid areas where development would likely cause significant impacts to sensitive resources or other values, which may otherwise lead the BLM to exercise its discretion to deny the application.

Regulatory fees collected shall be deposited into a cost recovery account following BLM Headquarters guidance (See Attachments 5 thru 8) and expended only on processing the application or activities associated with the leasing area at issue. Federal work hours beyond the available regulatory fee funds shall be documented and considered in the development of cost recovery agreements and charged as appropriate.

Step 1 – Initial Screening

After an application or nomination has been submitted and all required regulatory fees have been paid, the BLM Authorized Officer (AO) must determine whether a submitted ROW lease nomination or ROW grant application meets the initial screening requirements outlined in Step 1 of Attachment 1 (for a ROW lease nomination) or Attachment 2 (for a ROW grant application).

If the applicant or nominator fails to provide the information needed to determine whether the applicant or nominator meets the qualifications, or if the application or nomination is missing the contents (both of which are outlined in Step 1, in attachments 1 and 2), the AO shall promptly notify the applicant or nominator using the Notice of Deficiency (Attachment 3). This Notice of Deficiency shall clearly identify the missing information or contents and provide a specific timeframe for the deficiencies to be cured. Where a notice of deficiency is necessary, the AO shall send the written notice within 30 days of receipt of the application or nomination.

Initial screening shall be deemed complete when the AO determines that the nominator/applicant has met the qualifications to hold a ROW and also provided the contents required in Step 1; or when the AO determines that the nominator/applicant does not meet the qualifications to hold a ROW grant as outlined in Step 1. If the AO has sent the nominator/applicant a Notice of Deficiency and has not received the requested materials within the time provided in the Notice, the AO may determine that the nominator/applicant does not meet the qualifications. Until initial screening is complete, the AO should not conduct further activities on the nomination or application.

The required qualifications to hold a ROW grant must be met at the time a nomination or application is submitted and maintained throughout all stages of an authorization.

Step 2 – Prioritization

For purposes of prioritizing ROW grant applications, the AO will assign each application to one of three categories using the prioritization criteria listed in 43 CFR 2804.35 and project-specific advancement criteria through application of the attached worksheets. Specifically, a field office may elect to apply project-specific advancement criteria as described in Step 3 of Attachment 2. BLM offices may also identify additional project-specific criteria through step-down policy to aid prioritization of projects. 

While there is no specific requirement to re-categorize applications after prioritization is complete, the AO retains discretion to re-categorize applications based on new, relevant information received through surveys, public meetings, or other data collection, or after relevant modifications to the application proposal that resolve anticipated potential resource conflicts.  

Once an application has been assigned to a priority category, the AO shall promptly notify the applicant of the categorization using the provided Prioritization Letter Template (Attachment 4) and inform the applicant that:

  • the BLM will prioritize the processing of high-priority applications over low- and medium priority applications, and medium-priority applications over low-priority applications, but will generally prioritize processing ROW lease nominations ahead of any ROW grant applications, including high-priority applications;
  • the BLM will process the application subject to the availability of funding, personnel, and pre-existing workload commitments regardless of priority ranking; and
  • if the applicant’s application has been categorized as low priority, the proposed project may not be feasible to authorize.

If the BLM receives two or more ROW grant applications, each ranked as high-priority and determined by the BLM’s AO to be competing for the same development area (see 43 CFR 2804.23(b)), the AO may initiate a competitive process under 43 CFR 2804.30 between the high-priority applications, unless the applicants resolve any competing issues on their own initiative. When two or more ROW grant applications are received and only one application is ranked as a high-priority, the AO may determine that the applications can be processed in order of priority without initiating a competitive process and may proceed with processing the high-priority ROW application. If no competing applications are ranked as high-priority, the AO may follow these same procedures with respect to any medium-priority applications.

The BLM will generally prioritize workloads associated with processing new ROW lease nominations filed under 43 CFR Part 2809 ahead of workloads associated with processing new ROW grant applications submitted under 43 CFR Part 2804, including those grant applications that are classified as “high-priority” (see 43 CFR 2809.10(d)). Where staffing capacity is limited and when lease nominations or higher-priority grant applications are received subsequent to the Bureau’s substantial progress on the processing of previously received ROW grant applications, the BLM may continue with the commitment of resources on projects that are already underway.

Timeframe: This policy is effective immediately.

Budget Impact: None. 

Background: President Biden has set ambitious goals that will ensure America and the world can meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis, while empowering American workers and businesses to lead a renewable energy revolution that achieves a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and puts the United States on an irreversible path to a net-zero economy by 2050. Per Section 207 of Executive Order 14008, the Department of the Interior is identifying steps to accelerate responsible renewable energy production on public lands and waters to support climate and environmental goals. In addition, the Energy Act of 2020 requires the Secretary of the Interior to establish national minimum goals for renewable energy production on Federal Land, and to seek to permit at least 25 gigawatts of electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal energy not later than 2025 through management of public lands and administration of Federal laws.

Manual/ Handbook Sections Affected: None.

Coordination: The BLM Division of Lands, Realty and Cadastral Survey (HQ-350) coordinated the preparation of this IM with relevant BLM State Offices. The Department of the Interior Solicitor’s Office reviewed and provided input to this policy prior to its finalization.

Contact: If you have any questions concerning the content of this IM, please contact Stephen Fusilier, Branch Chief for Rights-of-Way and Renewable Energy, at 202-309-3209 or sfusilie@blm.gov or Jeremy Bluma, Realty Specialist, Renewable Energy Lead, at 208-789-6014 or jbluma@blm.gov.

 

Signed by:                                    Authenticated by:
Nicholas E. Douglas                    Robert M. Williams
Assistant Director                        Division of Regulatory Affairs and Directives,(HQ-630)
Energy, Minerals, and Realty

   Management


8 Attachments

  1. Initial Screening and Prioritization Checklist Nominations for Rights-Of-Way Leases (2pp)
  2. Initial Screening and Prioritization Checklist Applications for Rights-Of-Way Grants (5 pp)
  3. Notice Of Deficiency Template (2 pp)
  4. Prioritization Letter Template (2 pp)
  5. Frequently Asked Questions for Solar and Wind Inside Designated Leasing Areas Nomination Fees and Competitive Bidding (4 pp)
  6. Nomination Account and Competitive Bid Procedures Checklist (6 pp)
  7. Frequently Asked Questions for Solar and Wind Outside Designated Leasing Areas Application Filing Fees (2 pp)
  8. 5101 Application Filing Fee Checklist (2 pp)