Powering Up Renewable Energy on Public Lands

9/12/2016

In just eight short years, renewable energy on America’s public lands has gone from zero to hero -- generating domestic clean energy, cutting carbon pollution and creating good-paying jobs here at home. 

When President Obama took office in 2009, there were few renewable energy projects on public lands. Fast forward to 2016, and the Interior Department’s renewable initiatives are unlocking the energy potential of public lands and waters in unprecedented ways. And they’re all done using leasing strategies that make sure renewable energy projects are built the right way with community and stakeholder input, in the right places. 

Check out some of the ways Interior is blowing past renewable energy milestones: 

A bright future for solar energy

The sun sets over a desert plain covered in lines of reflective solar panels.
A solar energy facility in California. Photo courtesy of Tom Brewster Photography.

The American Southwest has some of the best locations in the world for solar energy. Since 2010, the Bureau of Land Management has approved 34 utility-scale solar energy projects with a total approved capacity of 9,763 megawatts of clean, renewable energy -- enough energy to power nearly 2.8 million homes. 

It’s also focusing on 19 preferred energy development areas that provide access to existing or planned transmission lines and incentives for development within those zones. If fully built out, these preferred energy development areas could produce as much as 27,000 megawatts of solar energy, enough to power about 8 million homes -- and to satisfy Western energy needs for years to come.

 

Geothermal energy is on solid ground

Steam rises from a long line of steamstcks at a geothermal facility in California.
Geothermal power plant in California. Photo by Department of Energy.

Interior is working with producers on the cutting edge of geothermal energy -- tapping reservoirs of steam miles beneath the Earth’s surface to create electricity. The Bureau of Land Management has approved 818 geothermal leases across 11 western states and Alaska. That adds up to a total capacity of 1,500 megawatts of geothermal energy, which means that a record-breaking 40 percent of U.S. geothermal energy capacity is generated on public lands.

 

Feel the rush of wind energy

An array of tall wind turbines are spread out over the desert floor.
Wind turbines generating clean, sustainable power. Photo by Joshua Winchell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For more than a decade, wind energy has been the fastest growing energy technology worldwide, achieving an annual growth rate of over 30 percent. With over 20 million acres of public lands suited for wind energy development, Interior is expanding on the 40 onshore wind energy projects already in operation. The Bureau of Land Management currently has 23 pending wind energy development applications on over 275,000 acres of public land. We’re blown away by this progress.

 

Riding the wave for offshore wind

Large pieces of metal frameworks being built on a shoreline.
Pieces of Block Island Wind Farm under construction. Photo courtesy of Deepwater Wind.

With 80 percent of U.S. electricity demand located in coastal states, the potential of offshore wind energy is poised to create additional momentum in the renewable energy industry for the U.S. Through a collaborative state-federal process, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management identified wind energy areas offshore seven states and awarded 11 commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast. The Bureau also recently approved transmission support for the Block Island Wind Farm offshore Rhode Island, which will be the first U.S. offshore wind energy facility when it goes online later this year.

In the past year, the Pacific has seen a surge of interest in offshore wind -- from an unsolicited request for a wind energy lease off the coast of California to three off the Hawaiian Islands.

Secretary Jewell speaking with other officials at a en event in a wind turbine testing facility.
Secretary Jewell speaking at the announcement of the National Offshore Wind Strategy. Photo by Amanda DeGroff, Interior.

Expect more breakthroughs now that Interior and the Energy Department have released a collaborative strategic plan to continue accelerating the development of offshore wind energy. The National Offshore Wind Strategy could help enable 86 gigawatts of new offshore wind in the United States by 2050.

Thanks to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan -- along with innovative technology and improved planning -- the promise of renewable energy on our nation's public lands and waters has become a reality. Learn more about Interior’s renewable energy work at https://www.doi.gov/energy