Bill proposed for wind development

Great Falls Tribune

by Karl Puckett

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is teaming with Republican Dean Heller of Nevada on a bill promoting development of renewable energy on public land by streamlining what they say is a slow-moving permitting process.

The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act will create a leasing pilot project to develop a straightforward development process that treats renewable energy similar to traditional sources of energy development such as oil and gas, Tester’s office said.

If the bill passes, two sites each would be chosen for solar and wind projects in the pilot program, Tester spokeswoman Andrea Helling said. It will affect leasing for solar and wind farms on Bureau of Land Management property currently open for development.

Currently, obtaining BLM permits for solar and wind projects on public lands can take more than two years without rights to the land until after environmental assessments are completed and full permit approval, the senators said. The bill will reduce the number of steps and make it easier for companies to make long-term plans, they added.

“With some of the best renewable energy development sites located on public lands, it’s vital to expand this industry while protecting the natural resources that make the West famous,” Tester said in a statement. “Our bill is a common-sense way to create jobs and provide renewable energy the same opportunities as oil and gas while increasing our energy security.”

Of the revenue generated from leasing, 25 percent each would go to the states and counties where the development occurs, according to the bill. A portion of the proceeds would be placed in a conservation fund for use in regions impacted by wind or solar development.

Joining Tester and Heller in supporting the bill, introduced Monday, were Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Republican Jim Risch of Idaho.

Montanans need every tool available to support jobs and maximize homegrown energy, Baucus said.

Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountains and Prairies Regional Center said the bill balances the need to expand renewable energy while protecting fish and wildlife habitat.

The bill is supported by Taxpayers for Common Sense, the National Association of Counties, The Western Governors Association and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Tester’s office said. It has been referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. No hearing date has been scheduled.