Feds Plan Bidding for Solar, Wind Farm Leases

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Bureau of Land Management is planning more incentives for developing solar and wind energy on federal land.
     A new BLM proposal lays out a competitive bidding process for leasing wind turbines and solar panels to encourage alternative energy projects, especially in Western states.
     The government has issued permits for solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands, many of them in desert areas, as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to tackle climate change. His Climate Action Plan aims to create at least 20,000 megawatts of electricity from renewable energy by 2020.
     In 2011, the bureau requested public comments on its plan to create competitive solar and wind energy rights-of-way on public lands.
     There are 19 “solar energy zones” on nearly 300,000 acres of public land, and the bureau’s proposed rule, issued this week, aims to expand solar projects in Western states.
     Under the proposal, the government would charge $15 per acre for rights-of-way outside designated leasing areas, as a way to encourage solar and wind development in the government’s designated areas.
     The proposal also includes financial incentives for leases in those designated areas, such as 30 year fixed-term leases and standard bonding requirements that would include $10,000 per acre for solar energy development and $20,000 for each wind turbine.
     The proposed bidding process would be similar to the process used for oil and gas leasing, and would include notices in local newspapers and the Federal Register. The proposal also includes a structure meant to ensure that the government receives a fair market value for using the public lands.
     Responding to comments on potential impacts to resources on public lands, the bureau said it would continue to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act when issuing competitive leases.
     The bureau also said it would look for areas with high potential for solar and wind development, but would leave findings about sites’ economic viability to prospective developers.
     The bureau has issued two environmental impact statements on wind and solar energy development on public lands, but some environmentalists have been critical of how the projects would affect endangered species and their habitats.
     Last year, the group Defenders of Wildlife said two proposed solar energy projects in California and Nevada would damage the habitat of the desert tortoise, a threatened species.
     Wind turbines also kill thousands of birds and bats every year, which worries environmental groups concerned about migratory bird populations.
     Comments on the proposal are due by Dec. 1.

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