Natural Resources panels focus on renewable energy development

Source: Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 11, 2016

In a pair of subcommittee hearings this week, House Natural Resources Committee members will consider legislation to promote renewable energy development on public lands and scrutinize existing projects that have been built there.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee is set to host the first hearing on Wednesday afternoon. With representatives from the conservation community, renewables industry and country governments, they will evaluate the “Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act,” or H.R. 2663.

The popular, bipartisan legislation from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) would direct the Bureau of Land Management to update environmental reviews and identify priority areas for expedited permitting of wind, solar and geothermal projects. It would also require the establishment of a royalty for wind and solar production that would be shared among states and counties and help fund permit processing, wildlife habitats and public lands access.

Despite the support of 64 co-sponsors — 30 of whom are Republicans — the bill may struggle to pass because it would divert rents, bonus bids and other renewable energy revenues from the U.S. Treasury. That money is currently used to pay down the debt and fund other federal spending priorities.

Coastal lawmakers may also object to the renewables revenue-sharing bill unless it includes provisions to share offshore oil and gas royalties with states.

The following day, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will take a close look at renewable energy developments that have already been built on Bureau of Land Management property.

“During this administration the taxpayers have subsidized tens of billions of dollars in renewable energy projects, including risky utility scale solar projects on federal land,” Molly Block, a spokeswoman for committee’s Republican majority, said in an email. “These projects cover vast tracts of land and have been treated differently with regard to their environmental impacts.”

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California will be a central focus of the oversight hearing. Operated by NRG Energy Inc., the 377-megawatt plant has struggled to supply as much power to utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as it initially promised.

The largest power tower project in the world, Ivanpah has also attracted unwanted attention for incinerating birds that fly into the “flux field” between its mirrors and towers (Greenwire, April 5).

If Ivanpah “or other projects go the way of Solyndra, the taxpayers could lose billions in loan guarantees and still be left to clean up the mess,” Block said, referring to the solar manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2012, leaving the public liable for $535 million in federal guarantees.

“The Committee is concerned about what appears to be a significant double standard between these facilities and other economic activities on federal lands,” she added.

Witnesses who are planning to testify at the hearing represent the Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Energy Research, two think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry. The Department of Energy and BLM were also invited to send representatives.

Schedule: The Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing on the “Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act” is on Wednesday, July 13, at 2 p.m. in 1324 Longworth.

Witnesses: Buster Johnson, a Mohave County, Ariz., supervisor representing the National Association of Counties; Steve Moyer, the vice president of government affairs for Trout Unlimited; Josh Nordquist, the director of business development at Ormat Technologies Inc.; and Ian Dowdy, the director of the Sun Corridor Legacy Program at the Sonoran Institute.

Schedule: The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Ivanpah and other federal loan-guaranteed solar energy projects is on Thursday, July 14, at 10 a.m. in 1334 Longworth.

Witnesses: David Kreutzer, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Energy Economics and Climate Change Center for Data Analysis, and Daniel Simmons, the vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.