BLM To Speed Western Wind Power Development
lass=storydetail1>WASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Thursday announced a new process for reviewing proposed wind farms that she said could result in a sixfold increase in wind energy production on Western public lands.
The move sets broad guidelines for the Bureau of Land Management’s wind energy development program, and should decrease the time to get approval for a wind energy project from two or more years to less than one year, Norton said.
Renewable energy sources have become more competitive, particularly in Western states, as oil and gas prices have risen. President Bush and Congress have recommended increasing the development of renewable energy on public lands.
As a part of the process announced Thursday, the BLM is amending 52 land-use plans in nine Western states, which Norton said will clear the way for wind farms generating 3,200 megawatts of wind energy — enough to provide electricity for about 1 million homes.
The BLM now has 22 wind energy development sites that produce about 500 megawatt hours of power.
“Public lands offer enormous opportunities for environmentally sound renewable energy production,’’ she said. “We expect to see many new wind energy sites in coming years.’’
Environmentalists questioned the timing of Norton’s announcement, saying she was giving lip service to renewable energy while advocating a controversial plan in Congress to search for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Lawmakers are wrestling this week over how to act on a Senate-backed Arctic oil provision.
Thursday, as she promoted the department’s work to speed wind development, Norton added that wind was not a substitute for traditional energy sources, such as the oil available in the arctic.
“I would say I’m really disappointed the secretary of the interior is taking the lead in calling for the sacrifice of the Arctic refuge,’’ said Mike Chiropolos, lands program director for the Boulder, Colo.-based Western Resource Advocates, which wants the government to do more to support wind and other renewable energy sources.
Interior Department spokesman Dan DuBray said Norton has been pushing to develop the “full panoply’’ of energy sources in the country.
The new guidelines are designed to help locate wind farms so birds and bats are prevented from colliding with wind turbines. They also protect other plants and animals that might be affected by wind farms, Norton said.
Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, said the plan will help the industry because it sets clear standards for where and how wind farms can be built.
Wind development is still hampered in many areas by the lack of transmission lines. Swisher said the industry is working with state and federal officials and others in the West on expanding their options for getting power to customers.
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