September 19, 2008

Push Made for ‘Green’

By Steve Tetreault



WASHINGTON - A bill that aims to speed permits for renewable energy projects on federal land was introduced in the House this week.

The bill by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., would require the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to approve or disapprove permit applications within 180 days.

If no action is taken the project automatically would get a green light.

"My legislation would help alleviate the bureaucratic hurdles and delays that streamline the application process needed to move renewable energy projects forward," Porter said in a statement inserted into the Congressional Record.

The Nevada Republican introduced the bill Tuesday after he complained he was not permitted to offer it as an amendment to an energy bill the House passed later that night.

As a stand-alone measure, it is one of a number of bills before Congress that encourage energy development on government-managed property. With only days remaining in this year's session, it likely will go nowhere.

Porter spokesman Matt Leffingwell maintained there still is a benefit to introducing a bill at the end of the session.

"Once you put it out there the likelihood is good it will be picked right back up" when a new Congress convenes in January, he said. Porter said the bill would clear a backlog of applications for proposed solar and wind projects. Nationally, there are 210 solar energy applications before the BLM and 217 pending wind project permit requests, he said.

The rising cost of energy and signals that policymakers want to be supportive of renewable energy has sparked a rush of applications. Congressional leaders just this week announced a tentative deal to continue offering tax credits to solar energy investors and for electricity produced by wind, geothermal, biomass and hydropower.

In Nevada, the BLM has received 66 permit applications dating to February 2007 for solar projects but has yet to complete one, spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said. The BLM does not call that a backlog, she added, because the agency is awaiting further material from applicants.

"We have not received any plans of development from the proponents so the ball is in their court," she said.

The BLM in June placed a moratorium on accepting solar project applications in Nevada and five other Southwest states while it performed an environmental study. The freeze was lifted after one month on complaints from industry and members of Congress, including Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The Nevada office had no figures immediately available on the total number of permit applications for wind projects.

Worley said the BLM has authorized rights of way for 44 wind gauge towers, an early step in site exploration. Further, seven projects have moved on to site development, she said, in the vicinities of Las Vegas, Ely, Elko and Carson City.

Five realty specialists handle permit applications for energy projects in Nevada. The BLM is seeking permission to add five project managers and an undetermined number of realty specialists in local offices to handle a rush of applications, Worley said.

The posts would be funded through fees assessed on permit applicants, she said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetrault at [email protected] or 202-783-1760

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