Posted on February 18, 2011 by Paul D. Phillips
On February 8, 2011, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a number of long-anticipated initiatives designed to address development of renewable energy on public lands. The draft guidance from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and the final guidance from the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) provide direction to the agencies and industry on navigating the many permitting and compliance requirements faced by solar and wind energy developers. These guidance documents will have significant implications for renewable energy development on public lands throughout the nation.
The FWS released two draft guidance documents for public comment. The first, “Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines,” is designed to provide wind energy developers with information to consider in selecting sites for wind energy facilities to avoid and minimize negative effects to fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. Click here to view these guidelines on the FWS website. The second, “Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance,” explains the FWS approach to issuing programmatic eagle “take” permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (“BGEPA”), and provides guidance on conservation practices and adaptive management recommended to facilitate issuance of these permits and compliance with BGEPA. Click here to view this guidance on the FWS website. Both draft guidance documents are subject to public comment for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register.
Both the Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance and the Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines create significant new requirements for wind energy developers planning wind facilities on public lands. The new guidance calls for increased consultation with the FWS and greater planning to avoid and minimize impacts to fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats at all stages of wind energy development and operation. Wind energy developers, renewable energy proponents, environmental groups and others concerned about the potential consequences of the new guidance, both on renewable energy development and the environment, should carefully review and consider commenting on these significant proposals. Click here for a more detailed summary of both FWS draft guidance documents.
In addition, BLM issued three final policy memoranda to provide guidance to field managers in evaluating, screening, and processing applications for utility-scale solar and wind energy projects on BLM-managed lands. Click here to view these memoranda on the Bureau of Land Management website. Instruction Memorandum No. 2011-059, “National Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Utility-Scale Renewable Energy Right-of-Way Authorizations,” reiterates and clarifies existing BLM National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) policy for analyzing the potential environmental impacts of utility-scale renewable energy projects. Instruction Memorandum No. 2011-60, “Solar and Wind Energy Applications – Due Diligence,” provides updated guidance on the due diligence requirements of right-of-way applicants for solar and wind energy development projects on BLM-managed lands. Finally, Instruction Memorandum No. 2011-061, “Solar and Wind Energy Applications – Pre-Application and Screening,” provides updated guidance on the pre-application and screening processes BLM will employ in review of right-of-way applications for solar and wind energy development projects on BLM-managed lands. These policies – developed in response to “lessons learned” from last year’s fast-track renewable energy initiatives – are not subject to review and comment.
Paul Phillips (with full credit to Sandi Snodgrass & Andy Irvine) all of Holland & Hart LLP.