U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Water Power Program

Interior Department Pursues Renewable Energy on Land and at Sea

March 18, 2009

The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced new initiatives and agreements aimed at accelerating the development of renewable energy on public lands and on the outer continental shelf (OCS). On March 11, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a Secretarial Order that declares renewable energy development as a top priority for the department. The order also establishes a task force that will identify specific zones on public lands and on the OCS where the Interior Department can facilitate the development of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy, as well as small hydropower or incremental hydropower additions to existing structures. The task force will work with the department's bureaus and offices to identify and resolve any obstacles to renewable energy permitting, siting, development, and production in those renewable energy zones. The task force will also identify electric transmission needs and will prioritize the permitting and environmental reviews needed for new transmission lines.

The Interior Department manages one fifth of land in the United States, plus more than 1.7 billion acres on the OCS, including lands with some of the highest renewable energy potential in the nation. That includes 140 million acres of public land in western states and Alaska that have geothermal resource potential. The department's Bureau of Land Management has also identified about 29 million acres of public land with solar energy potential in the Southwest and about 21 million acres in 11 western states with wind energy potential. In addition, there is significant wind and wave energy potential offshore. DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has identified more than 1,000 gigawatts of potential wind energy development off the Atlantic coast and more than 900 gigawatts of wind energy off the Pacific Coast. See the Interior Department press release and Secretarial Order (PDF 68 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

To help take advantage of those offshore renewable energy resources, the Interior Department has also agreed to work cooperatively with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to facilitate the permitting of renewable energy projects on the OCS. A joint statement issued on March 17 by the two agencies notes that the Interior Department has broad authority for the permitting and development of renewable energy resources on the OCS, particularly for wind energy projects. However, FERC is responsible for overseeing the development of hydropower resources in the United States, including wave, tidal, and ocean current projects. The joint statement gives FERC the primary responsibility for managing the licensing of such "hydrokinetic" projects in offshore waters. The statement resolves a turf battle that arose over a wave energy resource off the coast of California, and it allows the Pacific Gas & Electric Company to retain a preliminary permit that was issued by FERC. See the Interior Department press release and the article from this newsletter on the jurisdictional dispute.