State Role in Federal Energy Plan
By Brydon Ross, CSG Director of Energy and Environment
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama outlined his administration’s goal of permitting more than 11,000 megawatts of new solar, wind and geothermal electricity generation capacity on lands managed by the Department of Interior by the end of 2013. That’s enough power for nearly 2 million homes.
State policymakers will get a chance to learn how the federal government plans to work with states to meet the president’s ambitious goals at The Council of State Government’s 2012 Leadership Conference in La Quinta, Calif.
Ellen Aronson, the Pacific Region director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and Jim Kenna, the state director of the Bureau of Land Management’s California office, will share insights during CSG’s Energy and Environmental Policy Task Force meeting, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Friday, May 18. They’ll explain how difficult project and transmission line siting, endangered species and stakeholder issues will be addressed for both states and the private sector.
Since 2009, the department has permitted 29 commercial-scale renewable energy projects and has identified more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines to be considered for expedited review.
In March, the director of the Bureau of Land Management testified at a congressional budget hearing that the agency is only beginning to tap the potential of renewable resources on public lands. He said nearly 20 million acres of public lands have strong wind potential and more than half of all geothermal energy capacity already comes from existing federal leases.
Siting and permitting large-scale renewable energy projects can be extremely challenging and frustrating work. Balancing the interests of ratepayers and myriad stakeholder groups can be daunting for utility companies and state policymakers to ensure that projects make economic sense and are also environmentally responsible.
Western states face particular challenges. Many of these states are largely made up of federally owned land and have complex relationships between energy development and environmental stewardship that can often create passionate debate over siting issues. Pressures to find enough habitats for endangered or threatened species and the large footprint needed for some utility projects have caused significant problems. For example, an endangered species of tortoise in the Mojave Desert has delayed the construction of a $2.2 billion solar project by BrightSource Energy, and has cost the company more than $56 million in species protection and relocation expenses to meet a vast array of permitting requirements.
Also at the CSG National Leadership Conference in May, California Public Utilities Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon will share his insights as a state regulator on balancing obligations to ratepayers for reliability and affordability while developing large commercial alternative energy. California’s experience in project planning, siting and permitting to meet the nation’s most rigorous renewable energy requirement will be instructive for other state leaders interested in promoting renewable energy development.