NREL: Use public land to produce energy

By Kris Bevill
Web exclusive posted March 19, 2009, at 5:22 p.m. CST

At a recent U.S. Senate Energy Committee hearing to discuss the use of public lands for energy development, U.S. DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory Director Dan Arvizu testifed that the potential for renewable energy produced on public lands is "significant" and recommended moving forward with developing such projects. According to Arvizu, if 10 percent of the wind, solar and biomass potential on public lands was developed along with 100 percent of the known geothermal potential, the total energy contribution would be 640 gigawatts. "Given that total U.S. electrical generation capacity is 1,088 gigawatts, you can begin to see the significance of renewable resources on public lands," he added.

Arvizu also told Senate committee members that NREL has determined enough cellulosic ethanol could be produced to displace 8 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption by using leftover residue materials from logging and milling operations as feedstock. He noted that the percentage doesn't include the harvesting of trees for energy and there potentially is additional extensive feedstock in the western U.S. as a result of forest destruction caused by pine-beetles.

The director posed several potential barriers to the development of public lands for renewable energy use. "Unduly burdensome fees and regulations in a leasing program could stifle development of the very clean energy resources that we as a nation are striving to encourage," he said, adding that the unique economics of these types of projects must be understood and reflected in future leasing procedures and regulations. Arvizu also recommended that government agencies work together for a number of reasons, such as ensuring that federal leases for renewable energy development be awarded to renewable energy developers and to protect against those who would obtain leases only to drive up the cost of or limit the development of renewable resources by blocking development on those lands.