Wind Projects on Public Lands

Wind energy projects can be developed on public lands or in public waters, but the siting and permitting processes for these locations are typically more involved than processes for siting wind energy projects on private lands.

However, lease negotiations for wind energy projects on public lands may be simpler than those on private land because lease terms are often fixed and made public. Lease payments are made to state, federal, or other relevant jurisdictions.

Are There Environmental Restrictions for Wind Turbines on Public Lands?

Federal agencies must adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for all significant actions they take that may have an effect on the environment. This means that all wind power plants proposed for public lands (or otherwise having a federal “nexus,” such as federal permitting or federal grant or loan funding) must go through the NEPA process.

The leading federal agency is responsible for adhering to the review process, which involves analyses. If not considered appropriately in project planning, NEPA can delay development steps, such as obtaining project financing, interconnection permitting, and power purchase agreements.

The expanded development timeline, additional costs, and permitting uncertainty can make it difficult for wind energy developers to consider projects on public lands, although process helps limit environmental impacts.

What Is the Regulation Process and How Is the Public Involved?

NEPA requires thorough analysis of the impacts of the proposed federal action related to the wind power plant as well as potential alternatives. This analysis includes extensive public consultation requirements and, if the action is not categorically excluded, typically results in a published environmental assessment or environmental impact statement.

The time it takes to navigate this process varies significantly, depending on the level of potential environmental impacts, ranging between a few weeks to months for a small action that can be categorically excluded to several months for an environmental assessment or more than a year for projects requiring an environmental impact statement.

Who Regulates Wind Power Plant Siting on Public Lands?

Public lands, which may be owned by the state or county, operate under their own jurisdictional review and approval processes. However, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) authorizes studies of and processes applications for siting wind energy projects and transmission lines on federal land.

BLM manages more than 20 million acres of public lands with wind potential in 11 Western U.S. states, and as of March 2020, the BLM has approved 40 wind energy projects on public lands. Together, these land-based wind power plants add 5,600 megawatts of total installed capacity to the United States, which is enough to power 1 million homes.

Learn more about the rule that facilitates responsible solar and wind energy development on public lands; maps that show wind energy resources on public lands and identify existing land use exclusions and other potential resource sensitivities; and development focus areas that take into account ecology and resources.

Who Regulates Wind Power Plant Siting in Federal Waters?

The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for overseeing offshore renewable energy development in federal waters, including offshore wind energy development.

There is strong interest in offshore renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf, and BOEM is working closely with several states regarding offshore energy development and coordinating federal-state task forces.

See the state activities map to learn more.