05/13/2021 - Legal Analysis - Student Work

Siting Renewable Energy on Public Lands: Existing Regulations and Recommendations

by Peter Daniels, JD 2021

The Biden administration has committed to expand renewable energy development in the United States, including on public lands. Congress has also directed the Secretary to expand renewable energy permitting on public lands, with the goal of quintupling such energy production by 2025.

Permitting and siting renewable energy projects on public lands are complicated matters of law and policy. Public lands are subject to complex statutory and regulatory regimes and are managed by a diverse set of land management agencies. Plus, public lands bear myriad competing demands by stakeholders beyond energy development including recreation, conservation, ecosystem services, agriculture, grazing, and others. Secretary Haaland and the Department of the Interior now face the challenging task of balancing the sometimes-competing goals of conserving public lands and waters and offering them for renewable energy development.

Because the vast majority of onshore renewable energy development is taking place on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the largest federal land manager by acreage, this analysis focuses on BLM’s statutory and regulatory regime. In this piece, I provide an overview of that regime, focusing on BLM’s 2016 Wind and Solar Rule, which created a comprehensive competitive bidding structure for renewable energy right-of-way leasing on public lands. I then discuss BLM’s broad environmental review documents covering wind and solar energy development. Finally, I consider the implications of this regulatory regime for renewable siting under the Biden administration and offer recommendations for both regulators and developers seeking to responsibly expand renewable energy development on public lands.

Read the full piece here: Siting Renewable Energy on Public Lands: Existing Regulations and Recommendations.