Recovery Act funding through EERE enabled a New England state energy office to greatly expand its renewable energy incentive program. The program provides residential and commercial consumers with partial installation costs for small-scale wind, solar, and hydropower systems as well as rebates once the systems are up and running.
Close coordination between the DOE EERE Project Officers and DOE EERE National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Specialists allowed Project Officers to aid recipients in defining proposed renewable energy projects that would not have a potential for significant environmental impact and would qualify for a categorical exclusion determination under DOE’s NEPA regulations. A categorical exclusion defines a category of actions that the agency has determined does not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment (40 C.F.R. §1508.4) and for which neither an environmental assessment nor environmental impact statement is required. If DOE determines that a proposed project falls within a categorical exclusion and there are no extraordinary circumstances that pose the potential for significant environmental impacts associated with the particular proposal, the NEPA requirements have been met.
The state energy office was able to take advantage of categorical exclusions for many of its projects. By reducing the maximum allowable size of solar energy systems in the program, the state was able to ensure that such projects would fall within DOE’s NEPA categorical exclusions, thereby significantly shortening NEPA review times.