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House bill looks to streamline permitting of renewables on federal land

In arare moment of bipartisan agreement on renewable energy, Republican and Democraticmembers of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee spoke in favor of a bill intendedto streamline the permitting process for developers of renewable energy projectson federal land.

By "shortcuttingthe tedious and costly environmental review required by the National EnvironmentalPolicy Act," the bill, the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of2015, H.R. 2663, would help renewable projects that are "hampered by bureaucraticred tape," Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Doug Lamborn,R-Colo., said at a July 13 hearing held by the subcommittee.

Lambornwas joined by Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., the ranking member of the subcommittee,who said the bill would create a revenue stream for the royalties from renewableprojects on federal land to flow to state and local governments. The bill wouldaddress what he called an uneven playing field for renewables compared to oil andgas projects.

"Statesget half the money from oil and gas developments within their borders but they receivenothing from solar and wind," Lowenthal said. "This gives state officialsa strong incentive to support oil and gas projects, but no such incentive existsfor solar and wind projects on federal lands."

H.R. 2663 has more than 60 co-sponsors from both parties, fromRep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who has called fears over global warming a "scam,"to Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who has been a strong supporter of regulations on hydraulic fracturing.

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Managementhas already approved geothermal, solar and wind projects totaling 16,335 MW, butthere are still 20.6 million acres of public land with unapproved wind potentialand more than 19 million acres with unapproved solar potential, according to thesubcommittee.

A primary reason there have not been more wind and solar developmenton federal lands is the arduous and lengthy permitting process, according to thetestimony of several witnesses at the subcommittee. "There is no reason forthe BLM to take several years to permit a project when our county offices can issuepermits in weeks," Mohave County, Ariz., Supervisor Buster Johnson said.

The bill would require the DOI to review renewable energy developmentswith programmatic environmental impact statements that already exist for differenttypes of renewable generation.

Accordingto Josh Nordquist, director of business development for Ormat Technologies Inc.,one of the biggest developers of geothermal projects, this change would end a duplicativeprocess in which companies like Ormat have to conduct a second review under NEPAbefore they can start exploring potential geothermal developments. "Thisis a narrow, common-sense strategy to shorten development timelines," Nordquistsaid in his testimony.

Federal timelines are particularly important for geothermal power.About 90% of the known geothermal resources that could be economically developedin the U.S. are located on federally managed lands, according to Nordquist. TheGeothermal Energy Association, the trade organization for that industry, also supportsH.R. 2663.

A Senate version of the bill, S. 1407, was introduced by Sens.Dean Heller, R-Nev.; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; and Jon Tester,D-Mont., in May 2015, and supported by groups like the American Wind Energy Association.There has been no legislative action on that bill since hearings were held lastyear.