The Bureau of Land Management is charging back-due rent on renewable energy projects on public lands, as the Department of Interior simultaneously works to give oil and gas operators financial relief.
Aaron Weiss is with the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation advocacy group. He questions the timing of this rent demand for the renewable energy industry.
"It certainly looks like in the middle of a pandemic and a global energy market crash, the Trump administration is trying everything they can do to prop up the oil and gas industry, even if it means penalizing the renewable energy industry," Weiss said.
But it might not be what it seems. Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-scale Solar Association, said the BLM just didn't send their rent bills last year.
"There wasn't a really clear reason that we know for that," Eddy explained. "There wasn't anything official that was released. There was a lot going on at BLM at the time. But, what we do know is the bills didn't happen."
Many solar operators had money set aside for these payments, Eddy said. Solar energy operations pay based on acreage and megawatt capacity.
"Yes, it was retroactive, but they needed to collect the moneys," Eddy explained. "As far as I can see, I haven't seen any surprised companies."
Eddy said a bigger issue for renewable energy moving forward is the cost of developing on public lands, which she said can be more costly than private lands.
In a statement, the BLM said, "Federal law requires the BLM to collect fair market value for the use of federal lands, and the process to ensure that American taxpayers receive a fair return are outlined in regulations finalized in 2016."
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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