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FARMINGTON — The Bureau of Land Management has finalized its rule governing solar and wind energy development on public land, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced in a press release this week.

The rule establishes a new leasing program designed to support renewable energy development through competitive leasing processes. It also offers incentives to encourage development in certain areas.

"This new rule not only provides a strong foundation for the future of energy development on America’s public lands, but is an important and exciting milestone in our ongoing efforts to tap the vast solar and wind energy resources across the country," Jewell said in the release. "Through a landscape-level approach, we are facilitating responsible renewable energy development in the right places, creating jobs and cutting carbon pollution for the benefit of all Americans."

The rule will offer financial incentives to support development in areas with the highest potential for wind and solar generation and the least conflict with natural resources. The rule also aims to streamline the leasing process, offer transparency and predictability in rents and fees, and ensure updates will be made to the BLM fee structure in response to market conditions.

"By offering incentives for development in areas with fewer resource conflicts, the BLM’s rule provides a framework to support all of the landscape scale planning we’ve done to better plan for and manage wind and solar development," said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider in the release.

Several groups, including the Partnership for Responsible Business, responded positively to the new rule.

Alexandra Merlino, executive director of the New Mexico nonprofit, said the rule shows the progress President Barack Obama's administration has made on renewable energy.

"Through this new rule, the United States will continue to lead in responsible, renewable energy development that is growing our economy and combating climate change," she said in a written statement.

Mike Eisenfeld, energy and climate program manager with the environmental group San Juan Citizens Alliance, said his organization would like to see the BLM take the wind and solar leasing rule a step further.

"Given the history of oil and gas leasing here, they should be directed to looking at abandoned oil, gas and coal sites — areas that are already impacted (by exploration)," he said. "These well sites should be re-claimed and have smaller solar farms put on them."

Eisenfeld said his understanding is that both solar and wind development should be feasible throughout most of northwest New Mexico.

"We don’t have to use pristine landscapes,” he said. "BLM could do some incentives on already developed sites, and that would be a good transition."

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

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