To Boost Renewables, Feds Mull Changing California’s Desert Conservation Plan

In response to President Donald Trump’s order to review regulations that unnecessarily impede energy development, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says it will consider amending the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) to seek greater opportunities for renewable energy generation in California.

The BLM will publish a Federal Register notice to open a 45-day public comment period on the DRECP, which covers about 10.8 million acres of BLM-managed public land. On Sept. 14, 2016, the BLM issued a Record of Decision for the DRECP, which made only 7% of the area available for renewable energy leasing.

“We need to reduce burdens on all domestic energy development, including solar, wind and other renewables,” says Katharine MacGregor, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals. “This process will help us find ways to make more federal land available for renewable energy projects, as well as wireless broadband infrastructure.”

President’s Trump Executive Order 13783, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” directs agencies to review all actions that could “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy sources.” A second order called “Streamlining and Expediting Requests to Locate Broadband Facilities in Rural America” directs federal agencies “to reduce barriers to capital investment [and] remove obstacles to broadband services” in order to foster rural broadband, explains BLM.

In California, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an order in 2008 requiring 33% of the state’s energy production to come from renewable sources by 2020. More recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure requiring retail sellers and publicly owned utilities to get 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

According to BLM, renewable energy associations and local governments expressed concerns to the Department of the Interior that the DRECP did not designate enough public lands for future renewable energy development. Furthermore, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and the Blythe Council said the regulatory burdens created by the DRECP would make projects too costly to build, put undue pressure on private lands, and inhibit economic growth and job creation. These entities recommended a more efficient, streamlined and balanced approach to renewable energy development on both public and private lands, says BLM.

The comments sought in this new Federal Register notice will be used to help set the parameters of the review of the DRECP. In particular, the notice asks for comments on how land designations identified in the plan might affect development of solar, wind or other renewable energy resources.

The entire DRECP planning area covers approximately 22.6 million acres of both federal and non-federal land in seven California counties: Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego. The Federal Register notice specifies that the BLM will consider amendments to the California Desert Conservation Area, the Bakersfield Resource Management Plan and the Bishop Resource Management Plan. More information can be found here.

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