It’s time to promote smart renewable energy development on public lands

Source: By Ian Dowdy, The Hill • Posted: Friday, July 22, 2016

It’s almost unheard-of in Washington: Renewable energy legislation with support from both parties. Yet this week, both Democrats and Republicans spoke in favor of important renewable energy reforms that will help create clean, renewable energy and local jobs in the West.

The Public Land Renewable Development Act (PLREDA) has been bouncing around Congress for several years, and it may finally have the momentum it needs to pass. PLREDA will provide significant renewable energy development opportunities for communities, primarily in the West, that have an abundance of public lands and resources.

This legislation would promote renewable energy development in appropriate places on public lands, addressing the need for additional planning for these projects, making reforms to the revenue structure and providing economic benefits to states and counties in the West.

The West is defined by periods of drought, extreme heat and unpredictable weather patterns. Smartly planned renewable energy is a good bet for many places in the West, because it can provide successful and sustainable energy by using nearby energy resources to reduce unnecessary transportation risks and costs, it requires less water to harvest than other energy sources and it provides long-term opportunities to nearby communities for economic development including living-wage local jobs.

For the past few years, stakeholders throughout the West have been working to remove barriers for energy generation through regional and state-wide planning processes like the Western Solar Plan and Arizona’s Restoration Design Energy Project. Now that these plans have provided structure for the solar industry, it is time to provide a similar framework for geothermal and wind energy generation, and to allow communities throughout the West to benefit from this smart and renewable energy resource.

Passage of PLREDA will have a number of benefits for communities in the West, industry and the American people:

  • Revenue for local communities. The new revenue distribution formula will provide economic value to states and counties from leasing and royalty revenues to reward the implementation of a thoughtful and robust renewable energy industry on public lands.
  • New conservation and recreation opportunities. PLREDA will establish a conservation fund, fed by revenues from renewable energy projects on public lands, that will protect natural resources and create valuable outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • Priority areas for development. By selecting areas that are best-suited to renewable energy projects, similar to the successful Western Solar Plan, PLREDA will allow permitting and planning to be expedited, and environmental impacts to be minimized.
  • The establishment of a royalty fee for energy generation will promote more efficient and thoughtful generation of renewable energy.
  • Accountability. The requirement for periodic review of energy policy will track success and address challenges to the implementation of a renewable energy industry.

In an era that has been characterized by significant division over the value and benefit of publicly owned lands in the West, this bipartisan legislation is an ice-cold glass of water in a 115-degree July Arizona afternoon. The House version of the bill, HR 2663, enjoys 64 cosponsors, 30 of whom are Republicans, while the Senate version, S 1407, has seven cosponsors, four of whom are Democrats.

The bill has seen tremendous support across the West from a wide variety of stakeholders, including sportsmen and conservation groups, and could usher in a new sustainable economy of well-planned and locally supported energy development.

The future of the West relies on a thoughtful and robust renewable energy industry in order to take advantage of nearby resources, respond to threatening drought conditions and promote sustainable economic opportunities.

The bipartisan Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act is an essential step in moving our nation in the right direction. Please join me in urging its expeditious passage and implementation.


Ian Dowdy is a certified Urban Planner and Director of the Sun Corridor Program at the Sonoran Institute based in Tucson, Arizona. He is a sustainability advocate and engages on a number of Western issues including water use, conservation, renewable energy, economic development and smart regional infrastructure development. Visit www.SonoranInstitute.org for more information.