Measures would help companies develop geothermal resources and create competitive bidding process for wind and solar leases; part of royalties would be earmarked for conservation
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — House and Senate bills promoting wind and solar energy projects on public lands have the potential to spark a renewable energy boom in the West — and the measures have support from influential conservation groups like Trout Unlimited because they require that part of the royalty revenues derived from energy production on public lands go toward monitoring and mitigating impacts to wildlife.
The bills, sponsored by Senators Harry Reid and Jon Tester and Representative Dean Heller, encourage the responsible development of renewable energy while carefully considering the impacts on the country’s fish- and wildlife-rich landscapes. Provisions of these bills would, for the first time, establish a leasing program for wind and solar energy development on public lands.
The Wind and Solar Leasing Act would create a competitive bidding process for leases instead of the current first-come, first-serve application process.
The geothermal Exploration Act would help energy companies with the up-front costs associated with exploration and drilling for geothermal resources. The bill will set up a loan fund that the Department of Energy will administer to assist companies with higher risk development projects.
This restoration component is essential for balancing renewable development and hunting and fishing opportunities on federal lands, said Chris Wood, president and executive director of Trout Unlimited.
“Senators Reid and Tester and Representative Heller understand the importance of public lands to hunters and anglers,” Wood said. “Many sportsmen and women are understandably wary of large scale projects, in light of the impacts we have seen from traditional oil and gas drilling.These bills recognize the importance of intact fish and wildlife habitat and the connection people in the West have with public lands. That’s a vital part of this legislation.”
Wood said the requirement that part of the revenues go toward habitat mitigation help ensure sustainable development.
“The bills hit the mark in ensuring that we don’t allow energy production to diminish the productive capacity of the land,” he said.
Kendall Van Dyk, TU’s renewable energy coordinator Kendall Van Dyk, urged sportsmen to support the legislation.
“Developing clean, renewable energy, given the obvious hazards associated with oil and gas drilling, is a necessary step in improving our country’s energy supply,” said Van Dyk. “But rushing forward without first considering the impacts to land, water and habitat would be unwise—we’ve seen the impacts to the landscape, to our wildlife and to our communities from poorly planned energy development. We can and should do better.”
Van Dyk said the bills are a great start, an indicator that lawmakers in Washington are listening to the concerns of citizens in the West who will see the most immediate impacts from this development.
“We applaud these members of Congress for their leadership on creating a new energy future for the West,” Wood said. “We look forward to working with them and others to make the full transition to a leasing program for wind and solar energy development, and to ensure that renewable energy development on public lands is done in a manner protective of fish and wildlife.”