Shaping Federal Renewable Energy Policy

Shaping Federal Renewable Energy Policy

The California desert is considered one of the prime geographies in the world for development of utility-scale renewable energy, a critical need in the face of climate change and the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet it also contains protected areas, fragile natural ecosystems, as well as habitat and wildlife corridors equally crucial to climate change adaptation.

By 2009, this tension between two vital environmental concerns had created paralysis in the development of renewable energy projects in the region: land conservationists were working to block renewable energy development in order to protect critical habitat, while federal and state officials could not come to an agreement on how to proceed.

With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Wyss Foundation, and other donor-partners, RLF determined to establish a collaborative effort to remove this difficult dynamic. The collaboration—the Renewable Energy Working Group—brought together representatives of renewable energy companies, electric utilities, environmental groups, and foundations to sit at the same table and work together to shape and deliver recommendations for a federal policy that would guide renewable energy development in six western states.

Led by RLF, the collaborators responded in depth, meeting frequently together as well as with federal and state leaders, demonstrating not only that a sometimes contentious group of stakeholders could actually work together, but could reach real and significant consensus on critical issues. The working group’s recommendations helped drive decision making by the Department of the Interior (DOI) to guide the siting of tens of thousands of megawatts of clean energy production in harmony with land and habitat protection priorities. They also provided a viable template for such development in other parts of the nation, encouraging projects that create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to national energy security.

“RLF was a catalyst for the Department of the Interior’s rules on solar energy development in the West.” – DAVID HAYES

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In the end, the impact of the work RLF led was recognized by the federal officials who had to develop policies for California and five other states. When the new federal policy was adopted, then-Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes called out RLF’s role explicitly, asserting that “RLF was a catalyst for the Department of the Interior’s rules on solar energy development in the West.” RLF, Hayes said, “had credibility with everyone: environmentalists, renewable energy developers, the utilities, as well as the government … and was able to bring them all together and help them get to a consensus that contributed directly—and significantly—to these rules that will guide this country’s renewable energy development for years to come.”

The collaboration that RLF created in the Renewable Energy Working Group helped ensure that renewable energy on both public and private lands will be developed responsibly, so that renewable energy siting and transmission are coupled with the conservation of significant natural resources. This success resulted from RLF’s strategic relationships in the public and private sectors, timely intervention, a pragmatic approach, and engagement of a diverse set of stakeholders, many of whom had often stood in opposition to one another, but who in this instance stood together.

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