HELENA – A bill being considered by a pair of congressional committees would require wind and solar developers to compete for public land leases, and once those projects were up and running, they’d have to pay royalties.
It’s modeled after oil and gas development, with the money to be split among states, counties and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, (BLM). Just over one-third of it would go into a wildlife and land conservation fund.
Nic Callero, regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation, says it should boost this type of development.
“It’s a relatively new idea for renewable energy projects,” he explains. “It’s a system that we’ve already used on public lands for conventional energy projects, and what this does is, basically evens the playing field for renewable projects, versus conventional oil and gas projects.”
Callero’s group contends that a competitive leasing process also means developers will avoid controversial areas with critical habitat concerns, to save time and money.
The bill has co-sponsors from both parties in eight western states, including Rep. Steve Daines of Montana.
Bob Rees, president of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, says hunters and fishermen have two big fears about energy development of any kind on public land - that it will damage fish and wildlife habitat and restrict access. But he says this bill addresses both concerns.
“It just makes a lot of sense,” Rees says. “It develops energy that this country is going to desperately need in the future, and more importantly – most importantly, in some people’s minds – it’s green energy, you know. And that has a much smaller overall footprint on the environment.”
The National Wildlife Federation says since 2007, just over 40 renewable energy projects have been approved on public land in the U.S. – along with more than 7,000 oil and gas projects.