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Assessing The Potential For Renewable
Energy On Public Lands


Questions and Answers

  1. What is the purpose of the report?

    The purpose of the report is to identify and evaluate renewable energy resources on public lands in the west (except Alaska) and various limitations on access to them. Renewable energy resources addressed in the report include wind, solar, photovoltaics , biomass, and geothermal. Ultimately, the BLM will use this information in making decisions on prioritizing land-use planning activities in order to increase industry’s development and use of renewable energy resources on public lands.

  2. Which agencies compiled it?

    The Bureau of land Management (BLM) and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) established a partnership to conduct this assessment of renewable energy resources on BLM-managed lands in the western United States.

  3. What are the report's conclusions?

    The assessment resulted in the following findings:

    • Sixty-three planning units in eleven western states have high potential for power production from one or more renewable energy sources.

    • Twenty BLM planning units in seven western states have high potential for power production from three or more renewable energy sources.

  4. Why did the BLM/DOE develop this report?

    The study and resulting document were done in response to a task developed from the President’s National Energy Policy. In June 2001, BLM senior managers, resource specialists and technical staff developed a series of initial actions outlining how the Bureau could efficiently and effectively implement the President’s Policy. Task 22 of this list read as follows: the BLM will evaluate the availability of, and limitations on, use and access to public lands in order to increase renewable energy production, such as biomass, water, wind and solar energy. (IB-2001-138) This task was further defined at the National Conference on Opportunities to Expand Renewable Energy on Public Lands, Washington, D.C., November 28, 2001. DOE was charged with “…Assisting the BLM in preparing a list of highest priority locations for renewable energy (wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar) using GIS maps. These maps, developed with specific screening criteria for each resource potential, will support the revision of future land use plans along with the public participation process.” (Page 10, White House Report in Response to the national Energy Policy Recommendations to Increase Renewable Energy Production on Federal Lands, August 2002)

  5. How does this report relate to the recent EPCA report?

    The EPCA report addresses non-renewable (oil and gas) resources /reserves on Federal lands, and was requested by Congress. The NREL/BLM report deals only with renewable energy resources, and was requested by the Executive. Unlike the EPCA report, the renewable energy report is not an in-depth analysis of the actual resource amounts but rather an assessment of the potential. Neither did the renewable report look at specific restrictions on development resulting from land use planning or administrative decisions.

  6. What does the BLM plan to do with the report's findings?

    Ultimately, the BLM will use this information in making determinations on prioritizing land-use planning activities in order to increase industry’s development and use of the renewable energy resources on public lands. Industry received an immediate benefit from the report (even at the draft stage) in that areas of high potential for development were identified. In 2002, this resulted in the filing of over 40 applications to further study the resources on BLM-managed lands for potential development. The year preceding the study saw only 2 renewable energy development applications filed on BLM-managed lands.

    None of the BLM’s Time Sensitive Plans (TSPs) involve “top-pick” biomass areas. However, the BLM has identified the following renewable resources existing on TSPs currently involved in the planning process.

    • Geothermal resources in the Black Rock/high Rock National Conservation Areas (NV).
    • Concentrating solar power in the Jack Morrow Hills (WY), Farmington (NM) planning unit, the California Desert Amendment North & East Colorado Desert, California Desert Amendment North & East Mojave Desert, and the California Desert Amendment West Mojave Desert (CA).
    • Photovoltaic potential in the Black Rock/High Rock National Conservation Areas (NV), California Desert Amendment North & East Colorado Desert, the California Desert Amendment North & East Mojave Desert, the California Desert Amendment West Mojave Desert, and the Santa Rosa National Monument (CA).
    • Wind energy potential in the Rawlins (WY) planning unit, the California Desert Amendment North & East Colorado Desert, the California Desert Amendment North & East Mojave Desert, the California Desert Amendment West Mojave Desert, and the Santa Rosa National Monument (CA).

  7. Do areas identified as having high renewable potential overlap with areas with existing or potential oil/gas leasing?

    Yes, there are areas of overlap between renewable and non-renewable (oil and gas) energy resources. For example, southwest and south-central Wyoming and a portion of the Power River Basin in Montana have high potential for wind energy development. Overlaps for concentrating solar power exist in northwest New Mexico and southwest Wyoming. Biomass energy potential exists in west-central Montana on the Rocky Mountain Front.

  8. What was the methodology employed by BLM/DOE to develop this report?

    To accomplish this task, the BLM and NREL established a partnership to conduct an assessment of renewable energy resources on BLM-managed lands in the Western United States.
    The BLM/NREL team used Geographic Information System (GIS) data to analyze and assess the potential for concentrating solar power, photovoltaics, wind, and biomass resources and technologies on public lands. The BLM, NREL, and several industry representatives jointly developed screening criteria for each of these renewable resources to produce GIS-based maps and analyses. The team identified the top 25 BLM planning units whose areas have the highest potential for these resources.

    The BLM/NREL team also identified high-potential geothermal energy sites through visits to BLM state offices. The assessment focused on the BLM’s knowledge of, and experience with, the geothermal resources in seven western states. BLM experts identified 35 “top-pick” sites in 18 planning units in six states as having high potential for near-term development.

  9. What opportunities have there been for public input in the development of this report?

    In order to solicit public comment, the BLM and NREL posted a draft of this report on each agency’s external home page during summer, 2002. The press carried several articles about the draft report, noting that it was available for public comment on the BLM and NREL’s home pages. Publications carrying stories included Greenwire, Wind Energy Weekly, Renewable Energy Today, and EREN Network News. Comments on the document were received from concerned citizens and environmental groups including the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.

    A dialogue session on wind energy policy and the BLM/NREL report was held on August 16, 2002, in Washington, D.C. The following organizations were invited to participate: American Hiking Society; American Rivers Coalition; American Rivers; Land and Water Fund of the Rockies; Natural Resources Defense Council; National Audubon Society; National Trust for Historic Preservation; Sierra Club; Society for American Archaeology; The Nature Conservancy; The Wilderness Society; Union of Concerned Scientists; Wildlife Society.

  10. Why does the report not address renewable resources in Alaska?

    Detailed GIS formatted transmission corridor data was not available for Alaska. It was determined that identification of transmission corridors was critical to meaningful analysis of potentials. The BLM hopes to be able to complete the Alaska portion of the study when funding becomes available.

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