Indeed, the Interior Department’s approval last week of a plan for utility-scale solar development stands in sharp contrast to the approach it has taken for oil and gas leasing. More to the point, while exploration companies are dealing with long delays in the approval process for drilling permits on BLM-managed lands, big PV projects are getting fast track attention thanks to the solar zone plan.
The new version of Interior’s plan sets aside 445 square miles for development of huge photovoltaic plants. Coming after years of false starts and delays, the government hopes the program will solidify its new approach to renewable energy resource development in regions of the country where the wind blows often and the sun shines nearly every day.
When the government first introduced its program to develop large solar on public lands, developers were able to grab parcels of public land on a first-come-first serve basis for getting fed approval of projects. They choose where to build; a process that brought with it lots of land speculation.
Instead of deciding on projects on a case-by-case basis, Interior will now direct development on land it has identified as having fewer wildlife and natural-resource obstacles. It also thinks the new plan will help reduce permitting delays.
This is a ‘‘roadmap … that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands,” the Secretary said at a news conference in Las Vegas.
Maybe so, but it’s also concrete evidence of how different the government approaches energy development on land it owns, and it’s hurting domestic energy development. One executive of a maor oil and gas company in Denver told me last week they won’t even consider bidding on BLM drilling leases because of the red tape and long delays in approving them.
Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, noted in her testimony before members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last August, approvals for drilling permits on public land are taking nearly a year, on average, and actual production isn’t commencing for three years or longer.
Sgamma pointed out that federal policies hindering their industry’s ability to expand development include additional layers of leasing analysis; environmental analysis that’s stretching five to seven years; average permitting times of 298 days; ad hoc demands with no basis in regulation; litigation from environmental groups and inability to access leases.
It is costing industry millions … as well as slowing the nation’s momentum for energy independence.