DAVID R. BAKER, Village Green/SFGate.com, July 23, 2008
Drilling for undersea oil along the east and west coasts has quickly turned into one of America’s loudest political fights, as anyone reading the comments on SFGate can attest. But it’s not the Bush administration’s only plan for offshore energy.
For the past few years, the administration has been studying how to open the coasts to renewable energy projects, things like wave farms and underwater turbines designed to generate electricity by harnessing the tides. The Minerals Management Service — the same federal agency that sells offshore oil leases — has quietly pieced together a program to grant leases for testing renewable energy projects at sea.
On July 23, 2007, the service reported that it would move forward with the lease program, which will include two locations along the northern California coast.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest utility, wants a lease to study wave power off of Humboldt and Mendocino counties. Oil giant Chevron proposed a similar study along Mendocino but later dropped the project. A smaller company, Marine Sciences of San Diego, is seeking a lease that would cover some of the same offshore areas as PG&E’s Humboldt proposal.
The Minerals Management Service wants PG&E and Marine Sciences to collaborate on the project, rather than grant the two companies overlapping leases. Each lease will cover a specific patch of the ocean and will run for five years. Companies receiving the leases will be allowed to test equipment at sea — equipment such as buoys that generate electricity as they bob up and down on the waves. But the companies will not be allowed to set up commercial operations there.
Before any leases are handed out, the service will continue studying potential environmental pitfalls. Some north coast residents worry that a cluster of power-generating bouys tethered to the seafloor could interfere with fishing or the migration of whales. The service would like to start handing out leases as early as this fall and may be able to do so with some sites on the east coast. But the California leases could easily take longer, said service spokesman John Romero.
“The hope is we can do these things sooner than later, but bottom line, we’re not going to compromise the environmental review process,” he said.