Department of the Interior

Office of the Secretary
For Immediate Release:
July 11, 2006
Contact: Joan Moody


Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett Testifies on Department's Leadership in Renewable Energy Production

WASHINGTON – Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett testified today before the Senate Energy Committee that the Department of the Interior, which manages more than one-fifth of the nation’s land, has spurred rapid growth of renewable energy development on public lands while protecting the environment.

“By providing opportunities to develop renewable energy sources on public lands, the Department of the Interior is helping to enhance energy security by diversifying our nation’s energy portfolio,” Scarlett said.

Lands managed by the department’s Bureau of Land Management currently supply almost half of the nation’s geothermal generation and more than 5 percent of its installed wind capacity. In 2006 they will supply an estimated 60,000 tons of biomass, she noted. “Moreover, the department will continue to lead by example, utilizing renewable energy resources such as solar, geothermal, and wind power at existing and new DOI facilities,” according to the Deputy Secretary.

The BLM alone generates a total of 185 megawatt-hours of electricity from photovoltaic systems each year from more than 600 installations, Scarlett said. The National Park Service also is utilizing innovations in solar power at facilities throughout the National Park System. The Zion National Park Visitor Center, for example, uses 66 percent less energy than traditional energy systems and is virtually immune to the frequent power outages in the region.

The testimony also gave other examples of renewable energy use by BLM, NPS, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The potential for more renewable energy production on public lands is high, according to BLM and Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. A 2003 assessment indicated that 20 BLM planning units in seven western states have high potential for power production from three or more renewable energy sources.

The testimony noted that the growing cost of conventional energy resources encourages the development of renewable energy resources as part of an overall strategy to develop a diverse portfolio of domestic energy supplies for our future. “Public and private wind and other renewable energy generating sectors of our economy are the fastest growing energy sources in the United States,” Scarlett said.

The Energy Information Administration’s recently released 2006 Annual Energy Outlook estimates that the nation’s consumption of renewable fuels will grow approximately 60 percent from 6 quadrillion BTUs in 2004 to 9.6 quadrillion BTUs in 2025 as a result of advancements in renewable energy technologies, higher fossil fuel prices, state requirements to produce renewable energy and incentives provided by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The EIA estimates that in 2030 renewable energy will account for more than 10 percent of domestic energy production.

The Energy Policy Act created incentives and streamlined procedures for the Interior Department and other federal resource agencies to cooperate in meeting this challenge, Scarlett noted. For example, new authorities and provisions in the law give DOI bureaus such as the BLM, Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey more tools to explore the future development of promising new energy sources such as onshore and offshore wind, solar and biomass energy. The law also provides the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with additional resources to help ensure these technologies are developed in an environmentally responsible manner.

Highlights of production of renewable energy resources on public lands from the testimony include:

The BLM manages approximately 100 wind energy right-of-way authorizations. Since 2001, the BLM has issued more than 90 wind energy right-of-way authorizations, compared to less than 5 issued from 1996-2000.

In response to increased demand for wind energy, the BLM and the FWS completed a programmatic wind energy environmental impact statement and a programmatic biological opinion in 2005 allowing 52 land-use plans in nine western states to be amended. Completion of this EIS and the biological opinion should provide the foundation for the authorization of more than 3,200 MW of wind energy in an environmentally responsible manner.

The MMS is developing a regulatory program to authorize offshore alternative energy proposals, such as wind, solar and ocean current technologies.

The BLM has received two right-of-way applications for large concentrated solar power commercial generating facilities encompassing 12,800 acres with an estimated output of 1,750 MW. The BLM is prepared to respond to additional industry interest for concentrated solar power use of the public lands based on a BLM Solar Energy Development Policy issued in 2004.

The BLM currently manages 354 geothermal leases, 55 of which are producing and provide geothermal energy to 34 power plants.

Over the past five years, the BLM has expedited the processing of pending geothermal lease applications on public lands. Since 2001, 199 leases have been issued, compared to 25 leases from 1996-2001.

The Energy Policy Act made comprehensive changes to the Geothermal Steam Act by requiring land nominated and made available for leasing to be leased on a competitive basis; restructuring royalties; and revising lease terms, conditions and rentals.

Deputy Secretary Scarlett testified that “utilization of biomass by-products from timber harvests and other activities on the public lands is an innovative market solution for reducing recurrent wildfire danger, disposing of wood waste and expanding economic opportunities for local communities to develop energy generation industries.” The BLM offered nearly 30,000 tons of biomass, mostly through stewardship contracts, in 2004—the first full year the BLM had this authority. In 2005, 71,000 tons of wood by-products were offered through contracts by the BLM. The target for 2006 is to offer 60,000 tons of biomass through contracts or agreements.

Alternative Sources of Fossil Energy
Scarlett testified that the department is facilitating the development of alternative sources of energy from unconventional fossil fuel resources, such as gas hydrates, which, while currently uneconomic to commercially develop, present enormous potential for domestic energy production in the years to come.

“Promising results have been shown in Alaska. With this new knowledge, the MMS, in cooperation with the USGS and leading academic researchers, is currently reassessing the extent of potential quantities of in-place gas hydrates on the Outer Continental Shelf, and MMS will be the first to assess the technically recoverable resource,” she said.

The USGS, the BLM, and the State of Alaska are currently reassessing the potential quantities of technically recoverable gas hydrates on the North Slope of Alaska.

“Energy is vital to expanding our economy and enhancing our quality of life . . . renewable and other alternative domestic resources [are] important component[s] of the nation’s energy portfolio,” Scarlett said in conclusion. “Lands managed by DOI have a major role to play in diversifying the nation’s energy sources while ensuring protection of habitat and mitigating impacts to wildlife, cultural and natural resources.”


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