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Congress Favors Proposals for Clean Energy Built on Public Lands

May 25, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s aggressive environmental agenda moved forward during a congressional hearing Monday on whether to increase development of clean energies on federal lands.

Democrats and Republicans agreed more solar, wind and geothermal energy plants should be built on public lands.

They differed only on details of how to implement the plans.

“It’s a new day for clean energy on public lands,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources.

Lowenthal, along with industry and government witnesses at the hearing, said the proposed clean energy projects would reduce harmful emissions but also benefit the economy. 

“It’s also an opportunity to create good-paying family-sustaining jobs,” Lowenthal said.

The main legislative proposal for the clean energy projects is H.R. 3326, the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, which directs the U.S. Interior Department to establish priority areas on public land for the development of renewable energy projects.

Other provisions would authorize permits to industries to produce at least 25 gigawatts of electricity from geothermal, solar or wind energy by 2026. Revenue from the projects would be distributed to federal and state agencies.

Some of the money would be used to protect wildlife and enhance recreational access to federal parks.

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., promoted the Republican proposal for the legislation, saying it would alleviate “a burdensome permitting process” that Democrats overlooked.

A separate bill introduced in the Senate last month proposes consolidating clean energy tax incentives under the Internal Revenue Code as a greater incentive for developing the projects.

Recent industry and government investments in solar, wind and geothermal energy indicate they are prepared to take advantage of any new incentives Congress creates.

Ownership of renewable energy stocks surged to record levels in the past year, according to investment firms. Clean energy fund investment rose to $14.7 billion in the six months ending in March, according to investment house Morningstar, up from just $1.3 billion in the same period of 2019-20.

At the same time, U.S. local governments bought more renewable energy in 2020 than ever, according to data from the Local Government Renewables Action Tracker, an interactive web tool that monitors renewable energy transactions.

Large technology companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are leading corporate efforts to use more clean energy. All of them announced plans in recent months for big increases in use of alternative fuels and electricity sources.

Similar observations were made during the House hearing by Paul Thomsen, a vice president at Ormat Technologies, Inc., a Reno, Nevada-based supplier of geothermal energy technology.

“We are seeing more and more geothermal contracting,” Thomsen told lawmakers.

He added, “It has [an environmental] footprint 22 times smaller than other industries.”

Dawn Rowe, a supervisor for the San Bernardino County, Calif., Board, said she liked provisions of the proposed legislation that would distribute income from clean energy projects to state and local governments.

“It provides equitable revenue sharing for impacted counties,” Rowe said.

Nada Culver, an Interior Department deputy director of policy and programs, said plenty of land is available for the projects envisioned under the proposed legislation.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management already has identified at least 20 million acres of public land that could be used for some of the new solar, wind and geothermal electrical generation, she said.

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