Agencies Have Improved Permitting Process for Renewable Energy Projects, GAO Finds

Federal land management agencies — primarily the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — have taken multiple steps since the Energy Policy Act was enacted in August 2005 to meet the legislation’s goal of approving projects capable of generating 10,000 megawatts of electricity on public lands by 2015, a new study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.

To date, BLM has approved projects with the capacity to generate 5,450 megawatts of electricity, when counting those applied for after the legislation became law. Since August 2005, land management agencies have approved 25 utility-scale, renewable energy projects — seven wind, 10 solar and eight geothermal — out of hundreds of applications, said the congressional watchdog agency.

Time frames for authorizing wind and solar projects ranged from one-and-a-half to four years. For geothermal projects, federal permitting takes from one to four years, GAO found.

To streamline the permitting process, BLM completed a programmatic environmental impact statement for renewable energy development. The agency also has tripled its staff dedicated to processing applications for wind and solar energy projects. Overall, federal land management agencies have formalized coordination internally and across the federal government, and with state and local governments, according to the report.

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