Biden Admin Wants to Nearly Double Renewable Energy Capacity on Public Lands by 2023

Renewable Energy
Solar panels in Zion National Park, Utah.
Solar panels in Zion National Park, Utah. Camilo Morales / Tetra images / Getty Images

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the steps it was taking to increase the amount of renewable energy projects on public lands. 

The plans include increasing renewable energy capacity by almost 10,000 megawatts by 2023, which would nearly double existing capacity, The Hill reported. 

“The Department of the Interior continues to make significant progress in our efforts to spur a clean energy revolution, strengthen and decarbonize the nation’s economy, and help communities transition to a clean energy future,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “The demand for renewable energy has never been greater. The technological advances, increased interest, cost effectiveness, and tremendous economic potential make these projects a promising path for diversifying our national energy portfolio, while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The new steps announced by Biden’s Department of the Interior (DOI) Wednesday all advance towards the goal of permitting 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025 and creating a carbon-free power grid by 2035. 

The DOI said that it had pinpointed possible improvements to energy transmission lines across 11 Western states and improved a policy to help staff members assess wind and solar projects on public lands. Further, it announced that it had given out its first competitive leases for solar energy in Utah. The leases were awarded to Minersville Solar Energy LLC for more than 4,800 acres. Once fully developed, the land could support 600 megawatts of electricity and generate a total of 215 jobs. 

The announcement came the day after the DOI submitted a report to Congress outlining its progress so far at expanding renewable energy capacity on public lands, as Reuters reported. 

In the report, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it had permitted 10 solar projects and two geothermal projects during 2021. While this is an increase of 35 percent compared to 2020, renewable energy development on public lands is still well below private development. Capacity increased by 2.89 gigawatts on public lands in 2021, but 27 gigawatts for the U.S. overall. The 12 additional projects will be enough to power more than 300 million LED lights, according to The Hill. 

BLM said it needed around 66 new staff members to respond to increased demand for renewable energy permits and to streamline the review process with other agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service, Reuters reported.

DOI’s focus on renewable permitting comes as the Biden administration faces criticism from climate activists for its decision to restart oil and gas drilling on public lands, a breach of one of President Joe Biden’s major campaign promises. 

In response to the criticism, the Biden administration said the decision was the result of a court ruling. 

“Today’s action… was the result of a court injunction that we continue to appeal, and it’s not in line with the president’s policy, which is to ban additional leasing,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, as The Hill reported. 

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