Obama has Nearly Quadrupled Renewable Energy on Public Lands

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With two years of the Obama administration, almost four times as much clean energy has been put on the grid on public lands as in all the previous 40 years.

All the renewable energy ever permitted on public lands totaled 1,800 MW by the end of 2008. In the last two years, the Department of the Interior has approved 6,600 MW of new projects.

Rapid and responsible fast track utility-scale production of clean energy is a solution to the climate destabilization caused by continuing the reliance on fossil energy.

These approvals for 25 utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands are enough to power 2.3 million out of the 102 million American households. Not all the renewable projects are on public land.

With two new approvals this week – in which just the transmission and roads associated with them is on public lands – the total DOI approvals cover 27 utility-scale renewable energy projects.

These include 16 solar projects, 4 wind farms and 7 geothermal plants. A boost in staff capable of reviewing renewable energy permits resulted in the much faster pace of approvals, according to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar.

The uptick in clean energy permits marks a real change in US energy on government-owned land. Public lands have traditionally been approved for oil and gas leases which generate federal revenues of between $5 billion and $6 billion a year. To get an idea of the scale of this change, the total for the two years of Obama renewable energy projects approved will generate just under $1 billion a year to the federal coffers: $786 million annually.

Under $1 billion of annual federal revenue from clean energy may seem like peanuts compared with the $6 billion from oil and gas, but bear in mind that these annual lease earnings cover a period all the way back to the beginning of oil with The Mining Law of 1872, while these new clean energy permits cover a mere two years worth of leases.

The last one to be approved in 2011 was the Centinela Solar Energy Project in California, a 275-megawatt solar energy power plant that will connect via a 230-kilovolt transmission line to the existing San Diego Gas & Electric Imperial Valley Substation.

Although it is one of two approved by Interior to be built on private land, the DOI approved a 19-acre public land right-of-way to build the power line.

Like all renewable energy projects, these 27 underwent extensive environmental review and reflect strong efforts to mitigate potential environmental impacts.  For example, the Centinela project required not just that the developer install the transmission lines, but also buy 80 acres of additional habitat for the flat-tailed horned lizard, bringing the project to 2,067 acres.

The Wilderness Society, which has long been lobbying the White House for reform on how electrical grids are planned, built and managed, supported the new approach to rapid deployment.

“Secretary Salazar has laid the foundation for our nation’s entrepreneurs to harness the planet’s wind, sun, heat and other renewable energy sources in a manner that safeguards the wildlife and natural resources that help keep American communities healthy, safe, and prosperous,” Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows said when the DOI laid out this plan at the beginning of this administration.


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