Easing the Renewable Permit Backlog

Solar and wind companies trying to build big projects on U.S. public lands can breathe a sigh of relief — the long line for a permit from the Bureau of Land Management can finally start moving. The bureau, part of the Department of the Interior, said this weekend that it plans to use $41 million in stimulus funds to help reduce a backlog of pending applications for large-scale solar and wind projects on land it manages.

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The cash was announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar as part of a larger $305 million initiative at the bureau to restore public lands and watersheds. The initiative also includes funding for energy efficiency improvements at the bureau’s facilities, as well as some small-scale solar projects in Nevada, which are not part of the application backlog.

The backlog includes applications for 199 solar and 241 wind projects, Interior Department spokesman Frank Quimby told us. He said there are 65 projects in solar and wind that are far enough along in the development process that they can directly benefit from a speedier application process. Moving those projects along will certainly bring everyone else closer to the head of the line, although Quimby points out that not every application will be approved.
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BrightSource’s Massive Solar Projects Facing Approval Delay

BrightSource, a solar startup that is looking to build some of the first massive solar projects in the California desert, is facing a possible regulatory delay and has been attending hearings on how to streamline the approval process. The Associated Press noted the delay citing state filings, and we just caught up with BrightSource Senior Director of Corporate Communications Keely Wachs, who was heading into a hearing in Sacramento this morning on the subject and who confirmed that “the approval process is a bit behind.”
BrightSource had been aiming to have its solar project approved by the end of October, but both the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) need to conduct environmental assessments and give approval. That hasn’t happened yet. BrightSource’s solar project is one of the first in line to seek approval from the BLM, so there is a lot of new territory to cover, and both the CEC and BLM are resource constrained. The BLM was so overwhelmed with solar applications that it previously called for a temporary moratorium on solar applications on BLM land, but later reversed that decision in the face of a lot of criticism.
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