Five US presidential cabinet departments have inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to improve federal government coordination and streamline reviews to spearhead development of a lead-off 25GW of renewable energy projects on swathes of public lands by 2025.
The MoU, a 25-page document signed by Department of Interior (DoI), the departments of Agriculture, Defence, and Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency, follows on from the US Energy Act of 2020’s requirement that the DoI establish a programme to improve interagency cooperation for this purpose.
The plan also supports President Joe Biden’s goal of clean electricity within 15 years and builds on his January executive order which gave priority to improved permitting as part of “tackling the climate crisis”.
“To reach a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, the US has to streamline the permitting process to deploy more renewable energy projects,” said deputy energy secretary David Turk.
The three main US greenhouse gas emissions sources are transportation, industry, and power, which has the most momentum on transition and is fundamental to decarbonising the other two.
At present, about 5% of US’ 129GW of installed utility wind capacity is located on federal lands comprising 28% of the country's land mass, which has 11TW of wind capacity potential, according to a 2012 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Under the MoU, the departments will establish interagency coordination teams with qualified staff to facilitate preparation of environmental reviews, accelerate renewable energy decision-making, and coordinate all environmental and other agency reviews.
The DoI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be the lead agency for these purposes for eligible projects on the 244 million acres (99 million ha) of federal lands it manages, and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service will do the same for 193 million acres it controls.
“This MoU will help inform the BLM’s specialised permitting process expertise and we look forward to working with our sister agencies to support a clean energy future,” said interior deputy secretary Tommy Beaudreau.
In November, BLM had permitted 26 wind, 37 solar, and 48 geothermal projects for more than 12GW combined capacity on its lands.
DoI said the MoU does not cover the 89 million acres managed by the Fish & Wildlife Service, another of its agencies.
The federal government owns about 640 million acres, or 28% of land in the US, with most west of the Mississippi River where the best geothermal, solar, and wind resource is located, and in Alaska.
Also, administering large swaths of federal lands are the Department of Defence (8.8 million acres) and National Park Service (80 million acres), a DoI agency.
Earlier efforts to facilitate renewable energy development on federal lands have been contentious partly given difficulties among stakeholders to achieve an optimal balance between land protection and use, and the extent to which the federal government should own the lands.
There is also disagreement over whether the lands should be managed primarily to benefit the nation overall or to benefit the localities and states in which they are located.
Coordination between federal departments has also proven difficult, particularly for long-haul transmission lines that can cross multiple jurisdictions under control of different entities.
Adds DoI saying that the MoU does not cover lands managed by Fish and Wildlife Service