Environment & Science

New rule hopes to boost solar, wind development on federal land

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is located in Ivanpah Dry Lake, Calif. near the California-Nevada border. A new federal rule hopes to boost renewable energy production from public lands.
The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is located in Ivanpah Dry Lake, Calif. near the California-Nevada border. A new federal rule hopes to boost renewable energy production from public lands.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A new federal rule that took effect Thursday seeks to boost construction of renewable energy projects on public land, including in California. The rule would also generate more money for taxpayers while encouraging solar development in the Mojave Desert in a way that would minimize harm to the environment.

The Solar and Wind Rule is a key part of President Obama’s 2012 Climate Action Plan, which set a goal of doubling renewable electricity generation by 2020. Under the new rule, solar and wind companies will have to bid against each other at an auction for the right to develop a project on federal land. The idea is to make sure taxpayers are receiving a fair return for the use of public resources, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The rule attempts to focus development on areas that BLM has previously identified as having high potential for energy production, close proximity to transmission lines and that are not prime wildlife habitat. In Southern California, that includes desert tracts of eastern Riverside County and Imperial County along the US-Mexico border.

The rule is stark departure from how renewable energy development took place when President Obama took office in 2009. Back then, “The BLM basically took applications and put them in a pile, it was first come first serve,” said Bobby McEnaney, with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Western Renewable Energy Project.   

But the wind and solar industries say they liked things as they were because it was more predictable. In a statement, Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said he hadn’t had a chance to fully review the rule but he hoped that it “paves the way for increased solar development at predictable rates on public lands.”

Of course, the incoming Trump administration could throw out the new rule come January 2017.