The United States Army Corps of Engineers, the regulatory body responsible for implementing the permitting regime related to wetlands and other subjects pursuant to Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, has released new nationwide permits specifically intended for use in renewable energy development. The new permits went into effect on March 19, 2012.

Under section 404 of the Clean Water Act permit scheme, if certain qualifications are met related to the amount a proposed activity will impact wetlands, the Corps may issue a Nationwide Permit, which decreases overall permitting time and costs as compared to an individual permit. Historically, Nationwide Permits have been available for authorizing discharges of dredged or fill material in conjunction with many activities, including the construction of transmission lines and roadways. The two new permits specifically address renewable energy projects, which include wind, solar, biomass or geothermal projects.

Nationwide Permit (NWP) 51 relates to land-based renewable energy generation facilities, and authorizes discharge into non-tidal waters of the United States for construction, expansion or modification of such projects. The permit applies to projects that impact up to half an acre of non-tidal wetlands, or those impacting no more than 300 linear feet of stream bed. Covered activities include the installation of generation structures as well as utility lines, roads, and other related facilities. Preconstruction notification to the Corps is required. NWP 52 applies to water-based renewable energy generation pilot projects, and generally includes the same parameters as NWP 51.

The Federal Register notice of the new permits, as well as all other NWPs, can be found here.