Interior Releases More Guidance for Renewable Energy on Public Lands

The US Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a number of initiatives designed to encourage rapid and responsible development of renewable energy on public lands.

The proposals from the Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the policy guidance from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) attempt to provide clarity to stakeholders, including developers and employees, about smart siting and effective mitigation for renewable energy projects.

The FWS released two draft guideline documents that will be available for public comment for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register.

  1. Draft Voluntary, Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines have been developed for industry to avoid and minimize impacts to federally protected migratory birds and bats and other impacted wildlife resulting from site selection, construction, operation and maintenance of land-based, wind energy facilities.
  2. The FWS also has developed peer-reviewed Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance for wind project developers and FWS employees who must evaluate impacts from proposed wind energy projects to eagles protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and other federal laws. (Both documents are available at the link below.)

The BLM released its final policy memoranda to provide guidance to field managers in evaluating, screening and processing applications for utility-scale wind and solar energy projects on federal lands. This field guidance clarifies and improves National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation; streamlines the project application review and approval process; and strengthens Plans of Development (POD) and due diligence requirements.

BLM said it developed the policies from recommendations offered by federal and state agencies, industry and environmental groups based on "lessons learned" from last year’s fast-track renewable energy initiatives. They policies are:

  • National Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Utility-Scale Renewable Energy Right-of-Way Authorizations
  • Solar and Wind Energy Applications: Due Diligence 
  • Solar and Wind Energy Applications: Pre-Application Screening

John Anderson, director of siting policy at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), commented on the release of the draft guidelines.

"While AWEA is still in the process of reviewing the details, based on a quick review and feedback we’ve received from the development community, we expect to take issue with elements of the guidance materials," Anderson said. "We are concerned that portions of these proposals will negatively impact development from the standpoint of commercial viability and lack the flexibility to allow industry professionals to best site projects in the most efficient manner while continuing to achieve the shared goal of protecting wildlife and their habitats."

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