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Rule Formalizes Process for Assessing Energy Projects’ Potential for Encroachment

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  • October 23, 2011
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A rule issued last week by the Defense Department sets out procedures and timelines for the agency to review proposed renewable energy projects to determine whether they could interfere with military training and operations.

The interim final rule, published in the Oct. 20 Federal Register, implements changes required in the fiscal 2011 defense authorization act, which was intended to reduce conflicts between the development of renewable energy sources and DOD facilities. The rule does not mark a substantial change from existing procedures, however, as the department’s energy siting clearinghouse already incorporated many of the statute’s requirements.

“I don’t think there are any surprises in the rules,” Tom Vinson, senior director of federal regulatory affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, told 360. The rules are beneficial, he added, as it is helpful to have the timelines for DOD’s review process spelled out.

The language in the FY 2011 authorization act is designed to prevent a repeat of the controversy that occurred more than a year ago when the Pentagon blocked the construction of a massive wind farm in north-central Oregon that the Air Force believed would interfere with a radar station 50 miles away. DOD ultimately dropped its opposition just before the developer was scheduled to begin construction.

Much of the progress made since that incident in lessening conflicts between the military and the energy industry has come as a result of DOD’s clearinghouse, which was established in the summer of 2010.

“That has made a big difference in improving engagement between the wind energy industry and DOD,” Vinson said.

The clearinghouse has streamlined the federal review process, providing developers with greater notice when their plans potentially could interfere with military training and operations.

Much of the new rule is devoted to describing the timelines associated with each stage in the review process, including discussions between project applicants and the departments over the potential to mitigate adverse impacts. It also covers the department’s decision-making process for making a formal determination that a project would result in an “unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States.”

The new rule also designates — as called for in the statute — the deputy secretary of defense as the only official than can inform the Department of Transportation that a project would result in an unacceptable risk. Only the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics can provide such a recommendation to the deputy secretary.

DOD is accepting comments on the rule through Dec. 19.

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