February 2, 2018 / 6:02 PM / 10 months ago

U.S. mulls allowing more wind, solar projects on federal lands

(Reuters) - The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is considering changes to a California desert plan that had set aside areas for renewable energy development, a move it says would promote more wind and solar projects on federal lands.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, in a statement on Thursday, said it would consider amending the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan as part of a broader federal effort to unwind regulations that impede energy development.

The process is also aimed at making more land available for wireless broadband infrastructure, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Katharine MacGregor said in the statement.

“We need to reduce burdens on all domestic energy development, including solar, wind and other renewables,” she said.

The news drew praise from the wind and solar industries but criticism from California officials and environmental groups.

Reconsidering the plan would reopen conflicts over renewable energy development, conservation and other uses of the desert while “creating a cloud of uncertainty,” Karen Douglas, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, said in an emailed statement.

The Bureau of Land Management is part of the Interior Department, which has made similar moves to open up more federal land and waters to oil and gas exploration.

The plan was jointly hatched by California and the federal government in an eight-year process finalized in September 2016.

Solar and wind developers had criticized the designation of just 388,000 acres of the 10.8 million acres covered by the plan for renewable energy development.

The California Wind Energy Association’s executive director, Nancy Rader, said on Friday it was “ironic” that the Trump administration had moved to expand areas for renewable energy while the Obama administration had closed them off.

“We are happy for the BLM to take another look,” Rader said in an interview.

The Solar Energy Industries Association said in a statement it looked forward to working with the Department of the Interior.

Environmental groups panned the move.

“There is no new data to support changing the plan,” said Mike Sweeney, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in California, in a statement, noting that it was “exhaustively developed” with eight years of data collection, scientific analyses and significant public and private input.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang

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