Recently in federal lands Category

Pot, Power & Pollution: The Overlooked Impacts of Marijuana Legalization on Utilities and the Environment

April 17, 2014

Last month, Washington issued its first license for a legal marijuana grow operation under Initiative 502 ("I-502"), the marijuana legalization measure adopted by Washington voters in November 2012. A wave of additional operations will follow, as about 2,800 producers have applied for licenses to grow marijuana. While the implications of I-502 for the criminal justice system, land use, taxation and many other issues have been widely debated, the potentially significant changes in electricity and water use that are likely to follow from I-502's implementation have received almost no scrutiny. Nor have the important implications for environmental protection. Given the stakes, Washington utilities and environmental regulators should pay close attention to I-502 and the ongoing process of implementing the initiative.

At the outset, it is important to understand that the United States already produces huge amounts of cannabis. Official estimates suggest that U.S. production was somewhere in the range of 10,000 to 24,000 metric tons in 2001, making it America's largest cash crop by value. A more recent study suggests that production may actually be far higher - 69,000 metric tons. Given that marijuana production generally remains illegal, these estimates are highly uncertain. But there is little doubt that, as marijuana production comes out of the shadows and into the realm of legitimate business, power and water utilities will need to confront a number of serious and complex issues.

Implications for Electric Utilities
For electric utilities, legalization is a major concern because cannabis production, which generally relies on energy-intensive indoor growing operations, uses huge amounts of electricity. One recent study estimates that marijuana production may account for as much as 1% of the nation's entire electric consumption, accounting for a total bill of approximately $6 billion. In California, the numbers are even higher. Marijuana production in that state is estimated to use 3% of all electricity consumed there, equivalent to 9% of all residential electricity use.


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The Department of Defense Seeks Contracts for Purchase of Renewable Energy Credits

February 11, 2014

The Defense Logistics Agency today issued a presolicitation notice indicating that it will seek Basic Ordering Agreements ("BOAs") for the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates ("RECs") by the Department of Defense and associated civilian agencies. RECs will be purchased from solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass generators during the five-year period from May 2014 through May 2019. The notice indicates that a formal Request for Proposals will be issued in March.

A BOA is akin to the master agreements, such as the WSPP Agreement, familiar to many in the power industry. While the BOA does not guarantee that any particular quantity of RECs will be purchased, it sets forth the basic terms of the contract so that purchases can be made on an expedited basis.

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Pew Study Documents Progress in Military Renewables, Reliability and Efficiency Efforts

January 28, 2014

The U.S. military is making substantial progress toward its goals of acquiring 3 GW of renewable energy by 2025, substantially reducing energy use, and improving the reliability of power delivery to military bases, according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The progress attained so far demonstrates the seriousness of the military's commitment to renewable energy, energy conservation, and reliability, and confirms that the Department of Defense ("DOD") energy initiatives represent a huge opportunity for private-sector energy developers.

The DOD initiatives arise from both Congressional mandates requiring increased use of renewable fuels and from recognition within the armed services that continued reliance on fossil fuels and an aging electric infrastructure creates unacceptable security vulnerabilities. For example, the Defense Science Board's influential 2008 report, "More Fight, Less Fuel," identified the military's continued reliance on fossil fuels, and the fragile supply lines associated with that dependence, as a major security problem for military operations around the world. "Unleashing the tether" that ties troops to vulnerable fuel supplies therefore became a major strategic objective. Similarly, the report concluded that serious security risks arise from the dependence of U.S. military bases on an aging electricity infrastructure that exposes bases to increasingly frequent power outages.

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Feds Propose Simplified Transmission Siting Process

September 5, 2013

The U.S. Department of Energy recently requested comment on a proposed "Integrated Inter-Agency Preapplication Process" for electric transmission projects that may simplify the notoriously difficult transmission siting process. If adopted as proposed in the DOE draft, the IPP would create a new opportunity for transmission project sponsors to meet with federal regulators and interest groups prior to formally submitting a transmission proposal in order to identify and avoid issues that have the potential to slow or stop a proposal.

The draft proposal envisions a series of four meetings in which a project proponent would meet with federal regulators with the aim of identifying potential constraints on the proposed route arising from environmental considerations, cultural and historical resources, military operations, protected areas, and similar considerations. The process would also identify alternative routes that could avoid or minimize such conflicts. In additional, the process would lay the groundwork for future permits by, for example, identifying the kinds of information the project proponent will need to provide and assigning the lead agency for NEPA evaulation and consultation under the National Historical Preservation Act.

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A Fair Wind Blows: Washington Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Whistling Ridge Wind Project

August 30, 2013

Yesterday the Washington Supreme Court rejected a challenge to former Governor Christine Gregiore's approval of a 35-MW wind farm in Skamania County proposed by Whistling Ridge Energy, LLC. Gov. Gregoire approved the project following a lengthy administrative process conducted by the state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council ("EFSEC") and EFSEC's favorable recommendation to the Governor. The Court's decision is important because it helps define what energy developers must do to mitigate impacts when a project is located near, but not in, a protected area and has potential spillover effects on the protected area. In addition, the decision is important to renewable energy developers in Washington because they have the option of using EFSEC to obtain project approval, which may be especially important where strong local opposition is at odds with state and national goals regarding renewable energy development. The decision is also important to many other types of energy facilities subject to EFSEC jurisdiction, including electric and natural gas transmission projects, LNG facilities, nuclear plants, and large thermal power plants.

The dispute arose because the Whistling Ridge project is near, but not in, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The environmental petitioners object to Whistling Ridge primarily because it may be seen from some parts of the Scenic Area, and therefore may interfere with the aesthetic values that the Scenic Area was designed to preserve. In response to these concerns, EFSEC reduced the number of windmills allowed at the project from 50 to 35, and required "micro-siting" to further reduce the aesthetic impacts of the project. With these mitigation measures, EFSEC recommended that Gov. Gregiore approve the project. Gov. Gregiore followed this recommendation.

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As Decision Day for the Columbia River Treaty Looms, BPA and Corps Seek Comments On Draft Recommendations

July 3, 2013

As previously discussed here, the impending decision about whether to seek termination or renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty next year carries with it enormous long-term implications for the Pacific Northwest and the region's power industry. In preparation for this decision, the "U.S. Entity" -- Treaty-speak for the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which jointly administer the Treaty on behalf of the U.S. -- is seeking comments by August 16 on the its "Working Draft of a Regional Recommendation: Improving the Columbia River Treaty Post-2024", which was released late last month.

The Working Draft Recommendation is primarily the product of input from the "Sovereign Review Team," composed of representatives from the four Columbia Basin states, eleven federal agencies, and fifteen Native American tribes. Those entities have not yet reached full agreement, so the Draft remains a work in progress. The comments the U.S. Entity solicited will be part of an ongoing process of refining the recommendations that will be made by the U.S. Entity to the Department of State in December 2013. Ultimately, the Department of State will be responsible for terminating or renegotiating the Treaty.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Logging Roads Do Not Require NPDES Permits; Scalia Dissent Suggests Major Change Afoot in Administrative Law

March 26, 2013

On March 20, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the discharge of channeled stormwater runoff from logging roads is not a "point source," and logging operators therefore are not required to obtain a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") under the Clean Water Act ("CWA"). Although important to a key Northwest industry, the decision is not unexpected. Under its "Silviculture Rule" (40 C.F.R. Sec. 122.27(b)(1)), an administrative interpretation of the "point source" requirement, EPA has long held that stormwater runoff from logging roads is not a point source, and timber harvesters are therefore not required to obtain an NPDES permit before constructing roads. The decision, Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, also follows a pattern that has become almost routine in recent years -- the Supreme Court reversing the Ninth Circuit in an environmental case where the Ninth Circuit embraces a novel reading of the relevant statute. In fact, as previously noted here, the Supreme Court this term has already reversed a Ninth Circuit decision on the "point source" question in a case with strong implications for operators of dams, flood control facilities, canals, and other kinds of water works.

More surprising are strong suggestions in the concurring and dissenting opinions that the Court's conservative wing may be ready to re-examine one of the foundational principle of administrative law -- that an agency's interpretation of its own regulation is entitled to deference from the courts. Justice Scalia's dissent in Decker attacks this rule as an affront to "a fundamental principle of separation of powers -- that the power to write a law and the power to interpret it cannot rest in the same hands." Stepping past the EPA's interpretation, Justice Scalia sides with the environmental plaintiffs (and the Ninth Circuit), concluding that runoff from logging roads that is channeled into ditches and culverts is a "point source" under the statutory definition, which includes any "pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, [and] conduit."

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MOU Between FERC and the U.S. Coast Guard Promises To Simplify Licensing for Hydrokinetic Projects

March 13, 2013

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") and the U.S. Coast Guard ("USCG") released a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") designed to simplify and expedite the process of licensing hydrokinetic projects. Hydrokinetic technology, described by FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff as an "up and coming resource," includes projects designed to capture the energy of waves, tides, currents, and the free-flow of rivers and streams. The MOU will help coordinate the FERC licensing authority for non-federal hydropower projects with the USCG's authority to over navigation safety, maritime security, and stewardship of marine environmental resources.

The MOU requires applicants for a preliminary FERC hydrokinetic permit to notify the USCG, among other agencies. The USCG will then become a participant in FERC's pre-filing process, and will provide comments to the FERC and the applicant setting forth any concerns it has with a proposed project and identifying any needed studies. If a NEPA process is undertaken, FERC will be the lead agency, with the USCG providing input on, for example, scoping, as well as identifying any USCG concerns a regarding the project that should be considered in the environmental analysis process. The MOU also provides that, by participating in the NEPA process, the USCG agrees not to become a party to the licensing process.

Yesterday's MOU, along with guidelines issued jointly by FERC and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation & Enforcement last year for hydrokinetic projects on the Outer Continental Shelf, demonstrate that FERC intends to encourage hydrokinetic resources by reducing regulatory barriers to new hydrokinetic technologies.

If you have any questions about the MOU, FERC licensing, hydrokinetic technology, or other matters involving the development of renewable energy projects, please contact a member of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications, and Utilities practice group or Environment & Natural Resources practice group. These practice groups are consistently recognized as among the best, both nationally and in the Pacific Northwest.

Interior Department Streamlines Rules for Renewable Energy Development and Business Leases on 56 Million Acres of Tribal Lands

December 17, 2012

Renewable energy developers and businesses operating on tribal lands have received a nice holiday gift from the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA"). Effective January 4, 2013, new regulations will govern leases for the development of renewable energy, as well as non-energy businesses and residences, on 56 million acres of tribal lands. The new regulations promise to reduce delays and uncertainty associated with the current leasing process, thereby improving the climate for investment for renewable energy and other business ventures on tribal lands. BIA's summary of the new rule is available here.

While the old rules lumped surface leases into a single process, the new rules create several different categories of leases, including two types of leases intended to encourage renewable energy development on tribal lands, leases for other kinds of businesses, and residential leases. The rules provide specific limits on the time allowed for BIA to review each type of lease, increase deference to tribal decisions on leasing, and provide greater flexibility on issues such as lease valuation and in-kind compensation for leasing.

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More Military Movement: Department of Defense and Department of Interior Sign MOU Encouraging Development of Renewable Energy on Federal Lands

August 9, 2012

To support the twin goals of increasing the nation's energy security and promoting development of renewable energy resources, the Department of Defense ("DOD") and Department of the Interior ("DOI") recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") focusing on 13 million acres of federal land that have been "withdrawn" for military purposes, as well as lands on the Outer Continental Shelf ("OCS") suitable for offshore wind development. By clarifying jurisdictional lines and administrative responsibilities, the MOU helps ease renewable energy development, especially for wind, solar, and geothermal power.

In the West, millions of acres of federal land have been "withdrawn" from general use, and instead have been reserved for military uses, principally military bases and vast training ranges such as those in central Washington, southwest Idaho, southern Nevada, and eastern California. The MOU promises cooperation between DOD and DOI to encourage development of geothermal, solar, and wind resources on these lands. Without such cooperation, developing these lands can be a daunting prospect. For example, in may cases, withdrawn lands under DOI jurisdiction are interspersed with DOD-owned lands, resulting in different legal regimes governing immediately adjacent parcels. If these obstacles can be overcome, the potential pay-off is huge. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that military bases in the continental U.S. have the potential to produce between 630 and 926 GW of electric power from geothermal resources.

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