Hunters and anglers support a bipartisan bill on renewable energy development on public lands. Photo by Lew CarpenterDENVER – The first chance for companies to competitively bid on public lands for solar energy projects underscores the importance of legislation that would invest revenue from the development in conservation and local communities, a national sportsmen’s coalition said.
No bids were offered Thursday during the Bureau of Land Management’s offer of applications for rights of way and development plans for commercial solar projects on 3,705 acres of public land in Conejos and Saguache counties in southwestern Colorado. However, the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition said it expects new wind and solar projects to move forward across the West and it makes sense to bring the leasing of public lands for renewable energy in line with other forms of energy development by establishing royalties to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and support affected communities.
“Hunters and anglers welcome efforts to tap the abundant wind and solar energy sources in the West as a way to increase domestic energy production. But like any other energy sources, wind and solar must be developed responsibly, and there must be a mechanism to ensure that funding is available to offset unavoidable impacts to hunting and fishing,’’ said Brad Powell, senior policy director for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project.
The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act would direct at least a quarter of the royalties to a wildlife and land conservation fund and divide 50 percent of the revenue between state and county governments. The Senate sponsors are Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Dean Heller, R-Nev. The House sponsors are Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Joe Heck, R-Nev., Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Jared Polis, D-Colo.
“For rural communities, balancing energy development with conservation of our natural resources has as much to do with our economy as it does about preserving a Western quality of life. Hunting and angling are important to economies across Colorado and so is energy development,” said Tim Mauck, a Clear Creek County commissioner and co-founder of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Providing royalty revenue for communities and conservation from renewable energy projects on public lands will help local elected officials like me maintain these key components of our economy.’’
The SFRED coalition, led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited, has long advocated renewable energy production that is “smart from the start.” The goal is to avoid repeating the mistakes of poorly planned oil and gas development, the SFRED partners said.
”Renewable energy must become an ever greater part of America’s power grid. So let’s be smart about it and do it right. Part of doing it right is compensating the American public for the use of public lands and for the loss of fish and wildlife habitats,” said Kate Zimmerman, public lands policy director for the National Wildlife Federation.
In 2012, the Interior Department gave final approval to a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for 17 solar energy zones on public lands in six Southwestern states that had high potential for industrial-scale production. Two more zones were designated this year.
“Sportsmen played an important role in formulating the solar environmental impact statement” said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Responsible Energy Development. “Our input to the BLM’s planning efforts for developing solar zones ultimately yielded better protection of valuable fish and wildlife habitat, which will help minimize conflicts over public lands management, all while ensuring the responsible development of energy resources.”