Developing Wind Energy, Solar Power, and Geothermal Energy on Public Lands

Today, on the eve of the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0 in Las Vegas, the Center for American Progress released “The Vast Potential for Renewable Energy in the American West,” an analysis projecting that the federal lands in six western states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—could house clean energy projects with the potential to harness more than 34 gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal energy over the next two decades, enough electricity to power 7 million homes. With supportive federal policies to realize this goal, such a development could stimulate more than $137 billion in investment in the renewable energy sector, creating more than 209,000 direct jobs.

“America’s western public lands can help cleanly power the nation in the 21st century,” said John Podesta, Chair and Counselor of the Center of American Progress. “Our analysis determined that with policies that encourage investment in wind, solar, and geothermal energy, the west can become the hub of our clean energy economy.”

In this CAP report, authors Jessica Goad, Daniel J. Weiss and Richard W. Caperton assessed the federal government’s “reasonably foreseeable development scenarios” for the likelihood of renewable energy development on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. These analyses examine the economic and policy conditions in the six states to determine how much renewable energy on public lands could realistically be generated over 20 years and we find that more than 209,000 direct jobs could be created by building these 34.4 gigawatts.

To capture the full economic, energy, and public health benefits from this opportunity, the federal government should adopt four essential policies:

  • A national clean energy standard of 80 percent by 2035, with 35 percent for renewable electricity
  • A clean resources standard for electricity generated by resources on public lands and waters
  • Renewable energy zones
  • Comprehensive electricity transmission reforms to rehabilitate our aging system

Additionally, building these projects will create direct investment in these six states. Over the coming decade, many large financial institutions plan to invest in clean energy. Wells Fargo & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Bank of America Corp. have pledged to invest a combined $120 billion in clean tech. Responsibly building clean energy projects on America’s eligible public lands can help attract these investments, particularly in more rural areas that would benefit from the jobs and economic opportunity that the new projects can bring. Additional supportive policies are essential to turn these opportunities into reality.

To speak with CAP experts, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or

The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”