BLM expected to finalize wind and solar rule

James Fenton, jfenton@daily-times.com
The Farmington Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management is pictured in February 2012. The federal agency is expected to release rules for wind and solar projects in the near future.

FARMINGTON —  The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to release its wind and solar rule, intended to regulate land leasing for those projects, early next month.

Prompted by President Obama's Climate Action Plan, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced in 2014 plans to pursue the rule for a new competitive leasing process by the agency aimed at boosting solar and wind energy development on public lands in the West.

“This competitive process will encourage access to leasing opportunities for renewable energy projects, create greater certainty for developers and provide a fair market return to American taxpayers for the use of public lands,” Jewell said in a BLM press release. “The competitive proposal will help move the U.S. toward a cleaner environment — cutting carbon pollution and creating American jobs, while supplying communities with reliable and affordable power.”

The rule would increase fees as electrical generation capacity grows and the current wholesale electricity price.

Ed Pound with the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog organization Taxpayers for Common Sense said earlier this month that the BLM renewable rule should be enacted to protect public lands from any resource development — whether that be oil and gas extraction or installations of wind turbines or solar farms. The rule is also valuable to ensure the taxpayer receives a fair market value for the use of public land. 

"Although commercial wind and solar development will not extract a resource from federal lands in the same sense that removing a mineral like coal does, it will use resources such as advantageous location, terrain and prime wind and solar resources for commercial gain," Pound said. "The federal land to be used for wind and solar power generation provides critical resource inputs that have additional value far in excess of basic rental fees charged for occupying the land. The BLM should account for the value of these resources."

According to the BLM, an abundance of sunshine across 19 million acres of BLM-managed lands in the Southwest makes six states — New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah — prime candidates for utility-scale solar projects.

Since 2010, the BLM has approved 33 such solar energy projects with a total approved capacity of 9,278 megawatts of renewable-generated energy — enough energy to power nearly 2.8 million homes, according the BLM.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.