renewable sources by certain dates. California, for example, has a 20 percent RPS by the end of 2010 and 33 percent by the end of 2020.Both the Administration and the Democrats in Congress favor programs to streamline and rampup solar development on public land. S. 1642, a bill introduced in 2009 by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) sought to speed the permitting process by centralizing permits in one officeper state and establish a pilot program of renewable energy projects where competitive biddingwould be used for applicants to obtain leases of public land.In late 2009, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would also have centralizedpermitting and fast-tracked some solar projects.
While aimed mostly at a specific area of theCalifornia Desert, Feinstein’s bill was the first to include provisions that would distribute someof the proceeds from solar project leases on public lands to the state and county where the projectis located.This concept of distributing proceeds locally was also included in two subsequent bills sponsoredby Senator Harry Reid and Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada.
In addition, one of the Reid-Heller billsset a 60-day deadline for the issuance of leases within a pilot project area in one county inNevada.No major legislation has yet been introduced in the 112
Congress pertaining to large-scale solar development. Clearly, however, expediting solar development on public land is an easy call for many policymakers. There is little hesitation to at least rhetorically commit whole swaths of public land to this purpose.It is not inconsistent with existing policies that large solar power-generating facilities should beproposed on public lands, particularly since vast areas of open space— with high and largelyuninterrupted daytime insolation (sunlight intensity and duration)—are in the desert Southwest,where public land ownership is very high.When lawmakers and business interests turn to public lands for utilitarian purposes, however, themany non-utilitarian values of the land can be easily forgotten or discounted. What wasrecognized yesterday as treasured open space may now be perceived simply as empty real estate.
The main purpose of Feinstein’s bill, S. 2921, was to designate national monuments in areas of the Californiadesert where large private holdings had been acquired for the public through donation and privately-fundedpurchase. Some solar applications have been submitted in these areas, and Feinstein sought to move those projectsoutside the proposed national monuments, then expedite their processing as compensation for relocating them. Thelatest version of the bill, introduced at the beginning of the 112
Congress, no longer includes the provisions thatwould have expedited solar developments.
The American Solar Energy Pilot Leasing Act of 2010, HR 5508/ S. 3482 and the Clean Energy, CommunityInvestment, and Wildlife Conservation Act, HR 5735/ S. 3587.