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Know the West

The Renewable Energy Landscape

A look at renewable energy in the West


Solar-power developers are wheeling and dealing over claims in the sun-drenched Southwest; scouts for wind companies are combing Wyoming; and last summer an auction for geothermal leases on 105,000 federal acres in Nevada raised a record-breaking $28 million. But so far, federal lands still host a surprisingly small proportion of the country's renewable energy generation. Poorly tuned or nonexistent permitting procedures, lengthy environmental reviews and a lack of agency staff have created substantial application backlogs and caused developers to shy away from federal lands.

But changes are in the works, and most of the attention is focused on renewable resources on the Bureau of Land Management's vast Western holdings. The agency has completed programmatic environmental impact statements intended to simplify the environmental review process for wind and geothermal development on federal land. It is drafting another for solar power. At the same time, the BLM is recruiting 100 new staff members, who will be distributed among renewable energy coordinating offices in Nevada, Wyoming, California and Arizona. The Forest Service is currently developing policy for wind and solar permitting. As of yet, there are no solar or wind projects on Forest Service land.