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Renewable Energy Zones to Be Identified on U.S. Public Lands
WASHINGTON, DC, March 12, 2009 (ENS) - To reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, build a clean energy economy and create new jobs, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar Wednesday established an energy and climate change task force.

The task force will identify specific zones on U.S. public lands where the department can facilitate a "rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy," the secretary said.

"We will assign a high priority to identifying renewable energy zones and completing the permitting and appropriate environmental review of transmission rights-of-way applications that are necessary to deliver renewable energy generation to consumers," Salazar said. "We have to connect the sun of the deserts and the wind of the plains with the places where people live."

For these renewable energy zones to succeed, Salazar said, Interior will need to work closely with other federal agencies, states and American Indian tribes to determine what electric transmission infrastructure and transmission corridors are needed to deliver these renewable resources to major population centers.

"More so than ever, with job losses continuing to mount, we need to steer the country onto a new energy path," Salazar said. "One that creates new jobs and puts America out front in new, growing industries, one that promotes investment and innovation here at home and one that makes wise use of our domestic resources."

Interior manages one fifth of the country's landmass, over 1.7 billion offshore acres, and lands with some of the highest renewable energy potential in the nation.

Wind farm near Montfort, Wisconsin (Photo by Todd Spinks courtesy NREL)

Interior's Bureau of Land Management has identified about 21 million acres of public land with wind energy potential in the 11 western states and about 29 million acres with solar energy potential in the six southwestern states. There are also 140 million acres of public land in western states and Alaska that have geothermal resource potential.

In addition, there is significant wind and wave energy potential offshore. The National Renewable Energy Lab has identified more than 1,000 gigawatts of wind potential off the Atlantic coast, and more than 900 gigawatts of wind potential off the Pacific Coast.

Salazar said he is will soon finalize a regulation for development of offshore renewable energy.

Bobby McEnaney, a lands advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "Secretary Salazar is leading the charge at Interior to focus on ending our oil dependence and setting a path to a clean energy economy, while protecting our oceans and lands. The reorganization announced today will prioritize renewable technology over dirty, expensive fuels of the past. Creating a task force to advance renewable energy and reduce global warming makes Secretary Salazar a strong partner with President Obama as he works to repower America."

The task force will prioritize the permitting and appropriate environmental review of transmission rights-of-way applications that are necessary to deliver renewable energy generation to consumers. The task force will work to resolve obstacles to renewable energy permitting, siting, development, and production.

To help accomplish these goals, Interior may need to revise existing policies or create new policies, Salazar said, citing as examples the Geothermal, Wind, and West-Wide Corridors Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements and their respective Records of Decisions.

The nation's state utility regulators urged Congress and the Obama administration to move cautiously, if at all, in expanding federal jurisdiction over siting and planning of new transmission infrastructure.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, in a new policy resolution approved Tuesday by the Association's Executive Committee, said that in no event should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission be granted any additional authority over the siting or construction of new intrastate transmission lines.

Additional transmission authority should allow for primary siting jurisdiction by the states, the regulators said.

Power lines Long Beach, California (Photo by Dooley MTV)

"Ensuring that there is an adequate and thorough siting review of transmission lines is critically important," said NARUC Electricity Committee Chairman Garry Brown of New York. "Yet this is not something that can be done overnight. The local environmental, landowner, and consumer concerns will not go away simply because of a stronger federal presence. Resolving this issue will not be easy, and in order to succeed, federal organizations will need the help and expertise from affected State commissions and other regional planning groups."

In his announcement Wednesday, Salazar explained that the Department of the Interior will continue to "responsibly" develop oil and gas resources on public lands.

"In the last six weeks we have had five major oil and gas lease sales onshore, netting more than $32 million in revenue for taxpayers. And next week, I will be travelling to New Orleans to participate in a lease sale for the Central Gulf of Mexico. These will add important resources to our domestic energy production," he said.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard commented on the secretary's decision to establish renewable energy zones, saying, "We agree with Secretary Salazar that our country needs to tap its plentiful domestic energy resources, including oil and natural gas.

"The oil and natural gas industry is one of the world's largest producers of renewable energy, including wind, geothermal and solar, and have invested more in emerging energy technologies than the U.S. federal government and private sector combined," said Gerard.

"We are encouraged by Secretary Salazar's pledge that his department would facilitate a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of alternative energy," said Gerard, "and we call on the department to apply this streamlined approach to the permitting process of the most important domestic energy source, oil and natural gas."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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