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Archive for the ‘OCS’ Category

DAN BACHER, IndyBay.org, September 1, 2010

In a great show of unity between Tribal members, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmentalists, the 33 members of the Regional Stakeholder Group for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative on August 31 adopted one unified proposal for marine protected areas (MPAs) stretching from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border.

The North Coast stakeholders were the first ever to develop a single consensus proposal under the controversial, privately funded process. In the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast regions, environmental NGOs and fishing groups supported separate proposals.

The proposal will be submitted to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for review at before their October 25-27 meeting at the Fortuna River Lodge. The final proposal will then go to the Fish and Game Commission for final approval at their meeting in Sacramento in December.

“Everyone talked about a unified community proposal at the beginning of the MLPA process, but I wasn’t expecting to pull it off,” said Adam Wagschal, Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreational and Conservation District Conservation Director, in a news release from Cal Oceans, a coalition of three environmental NGOs. “Sure enough though, everyone came together and we did it. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Tribal representatives also applauded the adoption of a unified proposal that allows for traditional tribal fishing and gathering rights. The stakeholders meeting was preceded by a historic protest in Fort Bragg on July 21 where over 300 Tribal members from 50 Indian nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, immigrant seafood industry workers and environmentalists peacefully took over an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in defense of tribal fishing and gathering rights.

“There was significant progress by the stakeholders in coming together to create a unified proposal that protects tribal rights,” said Megan Rocha, Acting Self-Governance Officer of the Yurok Tribe. “The stakeholders did the best they could in respecting tribal gathering and fishing rights. Now this issue will go to the state of California and tribes to work it out at the next level.”

Rocha emphasized that every MPA proposal includes language to allow continued tribal uses in marine protected areas. In certain areas, the stakeholders also included language allowing for co-management between the tribes and the state.

Over the past few months, the initial set of MPA eight proposals was whittled down to four. The Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG), including Tribal leaders, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, harbormasters, divers, seaweed harvesters, business leaders and conservation representatives found enough common ground to develop one final proposal.

“The stakeholders took a strong position affirming tribal rights,” said Rocha. “It was unbelievable how committed the stakeholders were to making sure that tribal rights were respected. All of the tribes really appreciated that support.”

The proposal will result in about 13% of the North Coast region being restricted or closed to fishing and gathering, versus 16-20% in other regions of the state.

Representatives of conservation groups applauded the effort, despite some concerns that the plan may not fully meet the scientific guidelines laid out for the MLPA process.

“Everyone made sacrifices to get to this point,” said Jennifer Savage, Ocean Conservancy’s North Coast Program Coordinator. “We started out with a number of significant differences regarding needs and desires, but ultimately our respect for each other and willingness to work together enabled us to develop a plan we can all send forward.”’

The plan includes three “State Marine Reserves,” zones completely closed to all fishing, just south of Cape Mendocino, about a mile offshore of the Mattole River and along an area west of Petrolia. Another MPA along Samoa allows for Dungeness crab, chinook salmon and smelt fishing. The MPAs include two areas to the south of Redding Rock, one allowing fishing and the other a no-take zone.

Recreational and commercial fishermen also praised the development of a single proposal.

“I’m happy that we came up with a single proposal,” Tim Klassen, captain of the Reel Steel charter boat out of Humboldt Bay, told the Eureka Times Standard on August 31, “and hopefully we’ll keep our fate in our own hands.”

Despite the adoption of a unified proposal for the North Coast, significant concerns about the overall MLPA process remain.

Fishermen, Tribal members and environmentalists are concerned that the MLPA process under Schwarzenegger has taken oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy development, habitat destruction and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table. The MLPA would do nothing to stop another Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil disaster from devastating the California coast.

MLPA critics have also blasted the Governor for appointing an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and people with conflicts of interest on the Blue Ribbon Task Forces that develop the marine reserves.

Many are puzzled whey Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, is allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast and as a member of the BRTF for the North Coast, panels that are supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast.

Many fishermen and environmentalists are also concerned that a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, is privatizing ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG.

Nonetheless, the development of a unified marine protected area (MLPA) proposal on the North Coast is a great victory for fishermen, Tribes, seaweed harvesters, environmentalists and other stakeholders in the MLPA process. Rather than being “divided and conquered” by the Schwarzenegger administration as has happened elsewhere in the MLPA study regions, they chose to work together and overcome their differences to develop a consensus proposal.

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May 22, 2010

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the State of California have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to coordinate procedures and schedules for review of hydrokinetic energy projects off the California coast.

This marks the fourth hydrokinetics MOU that FERC has signed with other states, following agreements signed last year with Washington and Maine, and with Oregon in 2008. Today’s agreement ensures that FERC and California will undertake all permitting and licensing efforts in an environmentally sensitive manner, taking into account economic and cultural concerns.

“This agreement with California shows FERC’s continuing commitment to work with the states to ensure American consumers can enjoy the environmental and financial benefits of clean, renewable hydrokinetic energy,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

“I am delighted the State of California has signed an MOU with the Commission on developing hydrokinetic projects off the California coast,” Commissioner Philip Moeller said. “This completes a sweep of the West Coast which, along with Maine, is showing its commitment to bringing the benefits of clean hydrokinetic energy to the consumers of the United States.”

FERC and California have agreed to the following with respect to hydrokinetics:

  • Each will notify the other when one becomes aware of a potential applicant for a preliminary permit, pilot project license or license;
  • When considering a license application, each will agree as early as possible on a schedule for processing. The schedule will include milestones, and FERC and California will encourage other federal agencies and stakeholders to comply with the schedules;
  • They will coordinate the environmental reviews of any proposed projects in California state waters. FERC and California also will consult with stakeholders, including project developers, on the design of studies and environmental matters; and
  • They will encourage applicants to seek pilot project licenses prior to a full commercial license, to allow for testing of devices before commercial deployment.

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DAVID HELVARG, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2010

President Obama’s decision to have Interior Secretary Ken Salazar open vast new areas of federal ocean waters to offshore oil drilling is no surprise. In his State of the Union address, the president explained that his vision for a clean energy future included offshore drilling, nuclear power and clean coal. Unfortunately, that’s like advocating a healthy diet based on fast-food snacking, amphetamines and low-tar cigarettes.

If the arguments you hear in the coming days for expanded drilling sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been repeated for generations. We’ve been hearing promises about safer drilling technologies since before Union Oil began drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel. And if you don’t remember what happened that time, you should. Soon after the wells were bored, one of them blew out in January 1969, causing a massive oil slick that slimed beaches and killed birds, fish and marine mammals. The resulting catastrophe helped spark the modern environmental movement.

The president has promised no new drilling off the West Coast, and it’s no wonder. Opposition was unified and vociferous during Salazar’s public hearing on offshore energy development in San Francisco in April 2009. More than 500 people – including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Gov. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, California’s lieutenant governor and four House members – testified and rallied for clean energy and against any new oil drilling.

Boxer noted that the coast was a treasure and a huge economic asset “just as is,” generating $24 billion a year and 390,000 jobs.

Still, in the new Department of Interior announcement, one can hear echoes of President Reagan’s Interior secretary, Don Hodel, who warned us in the 1980s that if we didn’t expand offshore drilling, we’d be “putting ourselves at the tender mercies of OPEC.”

We did expand offshore drilling then, not off the stunning redwood coastline of Mendocino, Calif., as Hodel wanted, but where the oil industry knew most of the oil and gas actually was and is: in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We even created a royalty moratorium for the oil companies that went after those huge deep-water fields.

But offshore drilling has done little to wean us from Middle Eastern oil. And with less than 5% of our domestic oil located offshore, more ocean drilling won’t help now either.

The only real way to quit relying on foreign oil is to wean ourselves from oil, and that’s something our leaders are unlikely to fully embrace until we’ve tapped that last reserve of sweet crude.

Nor is it likely that oil-friendly politicians in Louisiana, Alaska and Virginia, where new drilling will take place under the Obama plan, are going to embrace administration-backed climate legislation that recognizes drilling as a temporary bridge to a post-fossil-fuel world.

The only real difference in the drilling debate from 30 years ago is that back then the issue was energy versus marine pollution. Today we know it’s even more urgent. Oil, used as directed, overheats the planet.

Plus, any new platform drilled is a structural commitment to at least 30 more years of fossil fuel extraction – assuming it’s not taken out by a big storm like the jack-up rig I saw washed onto the beach at Alabama’s Dauphin Island after Hurricane Katrina.

I’ve visited offshore oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel and the Gulf of Mexico and was impressed by the oil patch workers I met there. The innovative technologies they use for extracting ever more inaccessible reserves of oil and gas are also impressive.

But now we need to direct that can-do spirit of innovation to large-scale carbon-free energy systems, including photovoltaics, wind turbines, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells and marine tidal, wave, current and thermal energy. The difficulties of producing energy with those technologies will make today’s drilling challenges seem simple.

I respect the roughnecks and roustabouts I’ve met who continue to practice a dangerous and challenging craft, and the contribution they’ve made to our nation’s maritime history. But I believe it’s time for them to exit the energy stage. Apparently the president does not.

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TIM STELLOH, North Coast Journal, January 28, 2010

“Consensus” isn’t a word that comes to mind with the Marine Life Protection Act, Mendocino County branch.

Consider a Monday night meeting in Fort Bragg, where fishermen, seaweeders and enviros convened at St. Micheal’s Episcopal Church to do one thing: figure out which areas along the Mendocino Coast to “protect” — that is, which coastline to turn into no-take reserves and protected areas that limit or block fishing and harvesting, as required under MLPA.

Brevity was important. So was compromise, as the deadline is Feb. 1 for Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt counties — together the North Coast region of the MLPA — to officially make their choices as a single, unified group. If the coalition blows the deadline, the state will have a whole lot more power to make those decisions for them — particularly for Mendocino, said Jennifer Savage of the Ocean Conservancy. (Ed. note: Savage is the Journal’s art and poverty columnist.)

This process, of course, has been mired in conflict. Fishermen, seafood harvesters and other critics have called the science behind those protected zones — which the state says should be about nine square miles every 30 to 60 miles — bogus. They’ve described the process as an unfair, underfunded burden on communities, as obfuscatory and hostile to public input. Some have described the entire premise of MLPA as, at best, misguided and, at worst, a conspiracy to wrest control of California’s coast. On the flip side, enviros say the process has been transparent, and the protected areas are necessary to safeguard against overfishing and other harmful activities.

Del Norte has done just fine in deciding which parts of its coast to protect. Humboldt has slogged through. Then there’s Mendocino, which, let’s just say, has had a few problems.

It was about about two and a half hours into the Monday meeting when the mood soured. Bill Lemos, a local teacher who’s working with National Resources Defense Council (or “Big Green,” as MLPA foes call it) and Conservation First!, had, using a computer model map and projector, just cataloged all the areas he thought suitable for protection — areas near Cape Vizcaino and Pt. Cabrillo, among others.

A group of fishermen from the Salmon Trollers Marketing Association weren’t having it. Until now, most of them had, well, been fishing, and unable to attend any of the create-your-own map meetings that recently began, said Ben Platt, a salmon and crab fisherman. No longer. Were the state to implement one of Lemos’s suggestions near Usal Beach, he said, they’d lose 80% of their crab.

“That would gut the crabbing area,” another fisherman said. “I don’t know why you’d even put that up there.”

Another fisherman chimed in: “We’ve got to take in the economic value of our community. Commercial, recreational, everyone here. We’re supposed to be doing adaptive management not protective management — ”

Lemos had had enough.

“Folks, we’ve been through this before. We walked out of this meeting before saying, ‘We are not here to take your negative input,'” Lemos said, referring to a meeting earlier this month that ended on less than cordial terms. “We’re here to share with you what our ideas are. We understand that these [changes] will cause you to be less active in the ocean and cause you some economic hardship. We understand that part of it. But folks, these are coming from somewhere, and we are trying to adapt them to places that would have the least impact. Thank you for your input, but I really don’t want to be here all night arguing with you. We’ve done the best we can.”

Another debate followed — one that shows how bewildering the process is: Just how much coastline does the state require that the North Coast region set aside in order to comply with MLPA rules? And just how important is that rule anyway? According to Dave Wright, a recreational fisherman, it’s not a top priority.

Lemos disagreed.

Even though there’s not a strict number, for the next echelon of scientists to even consider the map of protected coastline — the one that’s due in under a week — 15% of the North Coast should be protected, he said, adding that even that would be on the low end. In other parts of the California coast where MLPA has been implemented, between 16% and 22% of coastline has been turned into reserves and protected areas.

“I thought they were re-evaluating that for the North Coast,” Wright said. “Aren’t they re-evaluating that?”

“I don’t know,” Lemos said.

And that’s pretty much where the meeting ended — almost an hour past the scheduled end time, with no apparent compromise and no single, unified map.

Which gives Mendocino’s many coastal stakeholders even less time. If they don’t pull an all-nighter between now and next Monday and come up with that map, several maps will have to be submitted to begin the slow slog through the MLPA bureaucracy toward the final destination: a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the state, and the Department of Fish and Game, which the MLPA is officially part of.

With that last-gasp, non-public effort just days away, Jeanine Pfeiffer, the UC Davis scientist who’s been moderating the discussions, had a stern warning to Mendocino’s enviros: “If we fail to protect our cultural heritage — which in this region means small-scale fisheries, coastal towns and Native American tribes — if we fail to protect our cultural heritage with the same passion and attention as our biological heritage, then we’re not doing our best,” she said.

Ladies and gents, get your NoDoz.

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Endangered species’ communication critical to survival

ARIEL DAVID, Seattle Post Intelligence, December 8, 2008

Whale-460_980418cThe songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world’s oceans, U.N. officials and environmental groups said Wednesday.

That sound pollution — everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar — is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals.

Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.

“Call it a cocktail-party effect,” said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. “You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore.”

An indirect source of noise pollution may also be coming from climate change, which is altering the chemistry of the oceans and making sound travel farther through sea water, the experts said.

Representatives of more than 100 governments are gathered in Rome for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The agenda of the conference, which ends Friday, includes ways to increase protection for endangered species, including measures to mitigate underwater noise.

Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said.

Marine mammals are turning up on the world’s beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. The condition, known as the bends, causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream upon surfacing too quickly.

Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits, Simmonds said.

Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.

As an example, Simmonds offered two incidents this year that, though still under study, could be linked to noise pollution: the beaching of more than 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar and that of two dozen common dolphins on the southern British coast.

The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90 percent of its range over the past 40 years.

Despite being the largest mammal ever to inhabit Earth, the endangered blue whale still holds mysteries for scientists.

“We don’t even know where their breeding grounds are,” Simmonds said. “But what’s most important is that they need to know where they are.”

Other research suggests that rising levels of carbon dioxide are increasing the acidity of the Earth’s oceans, making sound travel farther through sea water.

The study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the United States shows the changes may mean some sound frequencies are traveling 10% farther than a few centuries ago. That could increase to 70% by 2050 if greenhouse gases are not cut.

However, governments seem ready to take action, said Nick Nutall, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program, which administers the convention being discussed in Rome. The conference is discussing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution, he said.

Measures suggested include rerouting shipping and installing quieter engines as well as cutting speed and banning tests and sonar use in areas known to be inhabited by the animals.

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 27, 2009

Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks there have been numerous Blue Whales showing up dead on the coast of California and a cause of the recent Blue Whale washing up on the Mendocino coast has been the topic of great discussion and mystery here. Actual cause of death has been identified by propeller of a NOAA research ship. Additionally, here’s a new theory based on noise pollution and new research: Blue whales are forced to make more noise to compete with man-made noise pollution like ship sounds and sonar. More specifically: Blue whales increase their ‘singing’ to cope with noise pollution. And: Man-made noise such as ships’ engines has caused hearing loss in whales.

LOUISE GRAY, Telegraph UK, September 23, 2009

Whale-460_980418cIt has also caused other behavioural changes, including forcing the creatures to strand on beaches because they are unable to navigate.

The endangered blue whale uses sonar to navigate, locate prey, avoid predators and communicate.

However in recent years the increasing use of hi-tech sonar by ships, the noise of propellers, seismic surveys, sea-floor drilling, and low-frequency radio transmissions have made oceans noisier.

New research has shown that the whales are having to ‘chatter’ more often and for longer periods to communicate the location of prey and to mate.

Zoologist Lucia Di Iorio, of the University of Zurich, analysed the song of blue whales recorded by microphones during seismic explorations in the St Lawrence estuary off Canada’s north east coast over an eleven day period in August 2004.

“We found that blue whales called consistently more on seismic exploration days than on non-exploration days as well as during periods within a seismic survey day when the sparker was operating,” she said.

“This increase was observed for the discrete, audible calls that are emitted during social encounters and feeding.”

The study, published in Biology Letters, provides the first evidence that blue whales change their calling behaviour when exposed to sounds from seismic surveys.

“This study suggests careful reconsideration of the potential behavioural impacts of even low source level seismic survey sounds on large whales. This is particularly relevant when the species is at high risk of extinction as is the blue whale,” added Dr Di Iorio.

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EMILY AVILES, Ode Magazine, October 26, 2009

mainLately, the shores of San Francisco, California have been attracting more than wet-suit clad surfers and their boards.

A site five miles off the city’s western beach is being considered for a new Oceanside Wave Energy project.

Australian energy company BioPower Systems is collaborating with the City of San Francisco to investigate wave energy generation from the Pacific Ocean.

Wave power, not to be confused with tidal power, takes advantage of energy from the actual surface waves of the ocean. People have attempted to harness this power since 1890, but with little success. However, that may change thanks to BioPower Systems application of biomimicry.

The ideas underlying the company’s novel technologies reap the full benefit of billions of years of underwater evolution. The proposed bioWAVE ocean wave power system will sway like sea plants in ocean waves. Each lightweight unit—developed for 250kW, 500kW, 1000kW capacities—will then connect to a utility-size power grid via subsea cables. It’s now predicted that the same Californian waves that propel sundry surfers could generate between 10MW and 100MW of power. That’s enough energy to power between 3,000 to 30,000 homes annually.

If this project is indeed determined feasible—and it does look hopeful—BioPower Systems and the City of San Francisco will begin to develop a way to deliver clean renewable electricity to the city’s power grid. By 2012 that “hella rad swell” could be something electrifying.

Click here to view a full animation of the bioWAVE farm in action.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWith demands on US ocean resources control growing quickly, the Obama administration today outlined a new comprehensive ocean management plan to guide federal agencies in restoring and protecting a badly stressed US coastal and ocean environment.

Today’s policy shift proposed by the president’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force holds enormous potential for sweeping changes in how the nation’s oceans are managed, including energy development, experts say.

At its core, the plan would set up a new National Ocean Council to guide a holistic “ecosystem-based” approach intended to elevate and unify what has long been a piecemeal approach by US agencies toward ocean policy and development — from oil and gas exploration to fisheries management to ship transportation to recreation.

The proposal would include “a more balanced, productive, and sustainable approach to using managing and conserving ocean resources,” Nancy Sutley, chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality told reporters in a teleconference unveiling the plan. It would also set up “a comprehensive national approach to uphold our stewardship responsibilities and ensure accountability for our actions.”

Dr. Sutley, who also chaired the interagency task force, appeared alongside representatives from the Department of Interior, the Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the proposal would apply to 24 agencies.

“This will be the first time we have ever had this kind of action for healthy oceans from any president in US history,” Sarah Chasis, director of the ocean initiative at Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in her blog. She called it the “most progressive, comprehensive national action for our oceans that we have ever seen.”

The changes could affect new offshore wind energy proposals as well as oil and natural gas exploration. “We haven’t fully looked at all aspects of the report,” says Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “The one concern we have is we don’t want to stop the momentum of offshore wind projects we’re already seeing. So while we’re certainly not opposed to marine spatial planning, we would like to see projects already in the pipeline move ahead and start getting some offshore projects going in the US.”

One senior official of the American Petroleum Institute said he had not yet seen the proposal and could not comment on it.

The new push comes at a time when major decisions will be needed about whether and how to explore or develop oil and gas in now-thawing areas of the Arctic Ocean near Alaska. Policy changes could also affect deep-water regions in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the siting of wave power and renewable offshore wind turbines off the East Coast.

At the same time, desalination plants, offshore aquaculture, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals are clamoring for space along coastal areas where existing requirements by commercial shipping and commercial fishing are already in place.

All of that – set against a backdrop of existing and continuing damage to fisheries, coral, coastal wetlands, beaches, and deteriorating water quality – has America’s oceans “in crisis,” in the words of a landmark Pew Oceans Commission report issued in 2003. More than 20,000 acres of wetlands and other sensitive habitat disappear annually, while nutrient runoff creates “dead zones” and harmful algal blooms. Some 30% of US fish populations are overfished or fished unsustainably, the report found.

Among the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force’s national objectives were:

  1. Ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for comprehensive management of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
  2. Coastal and marine spatial planning to resolve emerging conflicts to ensure that shipping lanes and wind, wave, and oil and gas energy development do not harm fisheries and water quality.
  3. Improved coordination of policy development among federal state, tribal, local, and regional managers of ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
  4. Focus on resiliency and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification.
  5. Pay special attention to policies needed to deal with changing arctic conditions.

Experts said that the new, unified policy was timely, after decades of hit-or-miss development policies.

“We have been managing bits and pieces of the ocean for a long time, but while some good has been done on pollution and resource management, it hasn’t been sufficient.” says Andrew Rosenberg, professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire and an adviser to the president’s ocean task force.”This policy shift comes at a critical time for our oceans for so many reasons.”

The new proposal won’t be finalized until next year, after a 30-day comment period that begins now. Still, environmentalists were quick to hail the plan as a critical and timely step to begin healing disintegrating environmental conditions in US coastal waters and in the US exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles beyond its territorial waters.

In June, President Obama set up the commission to develop: “a national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhances the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies.”

It must also, he wrote, “preserve our maritime heritage, provides for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change, and is coordinated with our national security and foreign policy interests.”

“It’s the first time the federal government has put out a decent paper that proposes what a national policy and attitude toward our oceans should be,” says Christopher Mann, senior officer Pew Environment Group, the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trust.

In one of the more telling passages buried down in its interim report, the task force called for decisions guided by “best available science” as well as a “precautionary approach” that reflects the Rio Declaration of 1992, which states: “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environment degradation.”

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Excerpts from Environmental Leader, April 10, 2009

windmapUS Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told participants at a summit meeting “that U.S. offshore areas hold enormous potential for wind energy development in all coastal metropolitan centers, and the wind potential off the coasts of the lower 48 states could exceed electricity demand in the U.S.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has identified more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of wind potential off the Atlantic coast, and more than 900 GW of wind potential off the Pacific Coast. There are more than 2,000 MW of offshore wind projects proposed in the United States, according to the Department of Interior.

The total wind potential for the Atlantic region is 1024 gigawatts (GW), and 1 GW of wind power will supply between 225,000 to 300,000 average U.S. homes with power annually, according to U.S. Geological Survey-Minerals Management Service Report.

New Jersey is tripling the amount of wind power it plans to use by 2020 to 3,000 megawatts, or 13% of New Jersey’s total energy, according to AP. In Atlantic City alone, the local utilities authority has a wind farm consisting of five windmills that generate 7.5 megawatts, enough energy to power approximately 2,500 homes, according to the article.

The biggest potential wind power is located out in deep waters (see chart above) — 770.9 GW in the Atlantic, 891.4 GW in the Pacific and 67 GW in the Gulf, according to NREL. The laboratory assumes that about 40% of wind potential, or 185 GW, could be developed, to power about 53.3 million average U.S. homes.

But some believe Salazar’s estimates are too optimistic.

Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, pushing to build a wind farm off Cape Cod, Mass., told the Associated Press that it would take hundreds of thousands of windmills with the average wind turbine generating between 2 to 5 megawatts per unit.

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Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, July 26, 2009

Ken SalazarJust north of the Colorado-New Mexico border, in the sunny expanses of my native San Luis Valley, America’s clean energy future is taking root.

Under President Obama’s leadership, four tracts of land in southern Colorado and two dozen tracts across six Western states may soon be supplying American homes with clean, renewable electricity from the first large-scale solar power projects on our nation’s public lands.

The 24 Solar Energy Study Areas that Interior is evaluating for environmentally appropriate solar energy development could generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity, enough to power more than 29 million American homes.

The West’s vast solar energy potential – along with wind, geothermal and other renewables – can power our economy with affordable energy, create thousands of new jobs and reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our planet.

As President Obama has said, we can remain the world’s largest importer of oil or we can become the world’s largest exporter of clean energy. The choice is clear, and the economic opportunities too great to miss. Will we rise to the challenge?

It is time that Washington step up to the plate, just as states like Colorado and local governments are already doing. Congress must pass strong and effective legislation that will steer our nation toward a clean energy economy that creates new jobs and improves our energy security.

We will not fully unleash the potential of the clean energy economy unless Congress puts an upper limit on the emissions of heat-trapping gases that are damaging our environment. Doing so will level the playing field for new technologies by allowing the market to put a price on carbon, and will trigger massive investment in renewable energy projects across the country.

We are also seeing the dangerous consequences of climate change: longer and hotter fire seasons, reduced snow packs, rising sea levels and declines of wildlife. Farmers, ranchers, municipalities and other water users in Colorado and across the West are facing the possibility of a grim future in which there is less water to go around.

But with comprehensive clean energy legislation from Congress, sound policies and wise management of our nation’s lands and oceans, we can change the equation.

That is why I am changing how the federal government does business on the 20% of the nation’s land mass and 1.75 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf that we oversee. We are now managing these lands not just for balanced oil, natural gas, and coal development, but also – for the first time ever – to allow environmentally responsible renewable energy projects that can help power President Obama’s vision for our clean energy future.

American business is responding to these new opportunities. Companies are investing in wind farms off the Atlantic seacoast, solar facilities in the Southwest and geothermal energy projects throughout the West. We need comprehensive legislation that will create new jobs, promote investment in a new generation of energy technology, break our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let us rise to the energy challenges of our time.

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UCILIA WANG, GreenTechMeida, July 1, 2009

The draft plan covers how the state would plan and oversee all sorts of projects located within the state waters, including wind, tidal and wave farms.

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoMassachusetts released a draft of a plan Wednesday that would govern the permitting and management of projects such as tidal and wave energy farms.

Touted by the state as the first comprehensive ocean management plan in the country, it aims to support renewable energy and other industrial operations in the state waters while taking care to protect marine resources, the state said.

But creating a management plan would help to ensure a more careful planning and permitting process. Other states might follow Massachusetts’ step as more renewable energy project developers express an interest in building wind and ocean power farms up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The federal government also has taken steps to set up the regulatory framework, especially because the current administration is keen on promoting renewable energy production and job creation.

Earlier this year, the Department of Interior and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission settled a dispute over their authorities to permit and oversee energy projects on the outer continental shelf.

Last week, the Interior Department issued the first ever leases for wind energy exploration on the outer continental shelf.

Generating energy from ocean currents holds a lot of promise, but it also faces many technical and financing challenges. Companies that are developing ocean power technologies are largely in the pre-commercial stage.

Creating the management plan would yield maps and studies showing sensitive habitats that would require protection, as well as sites that are suitable for energy projects.

The state is now collecting public comments on the plan, and hopes to finalize it by the end of the year.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2009

article_photo1_smWhen giving his slide presentation on America’s new energy direction, Jon Wellinghoff sometimes sneaks in a picture of himself seated in a midnight blue, all-electric Tesla sports car.

It often wins a laugh, but makes a key point: The United States is accelerating in a new energy direction under President Obama’s newly appointed chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). At the same time, FERC’s key role in the nation’s energy future is becoming more apparent.

Energy and climate legislation now pending in Congress would put in FERC’s hands a sweeping market-based cap-and-trade system intended to lower industrial greenhouse-gas emissions.

Besides its role granting permits for new offshore wind power, the agency is also overseeing planning for transmission lines that could one day link Dakota wind farms to East Coast cities, and solar power in the Southwest to the West Coast.

“FERC has always been important to power development,” says Ralph Cavanagh, energy program codirector for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group. “It’s just that people haven’t known about it. They will pretty soon.”

That’s because Mr. Wellinghoff and three fellow commissioners share an affinity for efficiency and renewable energy that’s not just skin-deep, Mr. Cavanagh and others say.

Wellinghoff started his energy career as a consumer advocate for utility customers in Nevada before being appointed by President Bush in 2005 as a FERC commissioner. He was a key author of “renewable portfolio standards” that require Nevada’s utilities to incorporate more renewable power in their energy mix. Now he’s the nation’s top energy regulator.

It’s clear that FERC has a mandate to speed change to the nation’s power infrastructure, Wellinghoff says.

When it comes to the extra work and complexity FERC will encounter if Congress appoints FERC to administer a mammoth carbon-emissions cap-and-trade program, Wellinghoff is eager, yet circumspect.

“We believe we are fully capable of fulfilling that role with respect to physical trading [of carbon allowances],” he says during an interview in Washington. “We’ve demonstrated our ability to respond efficiently and effectively to undertake those duties Congress has given to us. Unfortunately, the result of that is they give you more to do.”

While the US Department of Energy controls long-term energy investment decisions, FERC’s four commissioners (a fifth seat is vacant) appear determined to ensure that wind, solar, geothermal, and ocean power get equal access to the grid.

The commissioners are also biased against coal and nuclear power on at least one key factor: cost.

Many in the power industry believe that renewable energy still costs too much. Not Wellinghoff, who says: “I see these distributed resources [solar, wind, natural-gas microturbines, and others] coming on right now as being generally less expensive.”

That might sound surprising. Yet, with coal and nuclear power plants costing billions of dollars – and raising environmental issues such as climate change and radioactive waste – others also see renewable power as the low-cost option.

Wellinghoff’s outspoken views have irritated some since his March selection as chairman.

Last month, for instance, he drew fire from nuclear-energy boosters in Congress after he characterized as “an anachronism” the idea of meeting future US power demand by building large new coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

“You don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear [plants] that run all the time,” Wellinghoff told reporters at a US Energy Association Forum last month. Then he added: “We may not need any, ever.”

That set off a salvo from Sen. Lind sey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a staunch nuclear-power advocate. “The public is ill-served when someone in such a prominent position suggests alternative-energy programs are developed and in such a state that we should abandon our plans to build more plants,” he said in a statement.

But to others, Wellinghoff is the epitome of what the US needs: a public servant zeroed in on energy security, the environment, efficiency, and keeping energy costs down.

“Wellinghoff has been a longtime supporter of efficiency and consumer interests,” says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, an energy advocacy group. “I would call him a visionary. He’s not just content with the status quo.”

In Wellinghoff’s vision of the future, where the cost of carbon dioxide emissions is added to the price of coal-fired power plants and natural-gas turbines, it may be less expensive for consumers to set their appliances to avoid buying power at peak times. Or they may choose to buy power from a collection of microturbines, fuel cell, wind, solar, biomass, and ocean power systems.

“We’re going to see more distributed generation – and we’re already starting to see that happen,” Wellinghoff says. “Not only renewable generation like photovoltaic [panels] that people put on their homes and businesses, but also fossil-fuel systems like combined heat and power,” called cogeneration units.

To coordinate and harmonize this fluctuating phalanx of power sources, customers will need to know and be able to respond to the price of power, Wellinghoff says. They will also need a new generation of appliances that switch off automatically to balance power supply and demand peaks.

But there are huge challenges with a power grid that provides energy from a mix of wind, solar, and other renewable power.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid [along the East Coast], he says. “You can’t just move [wind and wave power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability – Florida to Maine.”

As the percentage of renewable power rises toward 20 to 25% of grid power from around 3% today, there must be a backup to fill gaps when intermittent winds stop blowing or the sun doesn’t shine.

In a decade or more from now, Wellinghoff, says millions of all-electric or plug-in electric-gas hybrid vehicles could plug into the grid and supply spurts of power to fill in for dipping wind and solar output.

“There are new technologies,” he says, “that in the next three to five years will advance the grid to a new level.”

Gesturing to a drawing board on the wall, he hops up from his chair, his hands flicking across a sketch of the eastern half of the US with power lines fanning out from the Plains states to the East Coast.

“This is another grid option that would take a lot of power that’s now constrained in the Midwest, that can be developed – wind energy there – and move it to all the load centers [cities] on the East Coast,” he says.

Similarly, lines could be built across the Rockies to connect wind power in Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast. Instead of building power lines from the Midwest to the East Coast, “a lot of people would say, ‘No, no, let’s look first look at the wind offshore,’ ” he says.

Whether it’s wind from the Plains or the ocean, the resulting variability will have an impact on grid reliability if action isn’t taken, Wellinghoff says.

“You’re going to have to upgrade this whole grid here,” he says, gesturing to the East Coast. “You can’t just move [power] from offshore to load centers onshore without looking at the effect on reliability.”

Reliability of the grid remains paramount – Job No. 1 for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But if boosting renewable power to 25% by 2025 – the Obama administration’s goal – means spreading Internet-connected controllers across substations and transmission networks, then cybersecurity to protect them from increasing Internet-based threats is critical.

Yet a recent review by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation overseen by FERC found more than two-thirds of power generating companies denied they had any “critical assets” potentially vulnerable to cyberattack. Those denials concern Wellinghoff.

“We are asking the responding utilities to go back and reveal what are the number of critical assets and redetermine that for us,” he says. “We want to be sure that we have fully identify all the critical assets that need to be protected.”

It would be especially troubling if, as was recently reported by The Wall Street Journal, Russian and Chinese entities have hacked into the US power grid and left behind malware that could be activated at a later time to disable the grid.

But Wellinghoff says he has checked on the type of intrusion referred to in the article and denies successful grid hacks by foreign nations that have left dangerous malware behind.

While acknowledging that individuals overseas have tried to hack the grid frequently, he says, “I’m not aware of any successful hacks that have implanted into the grid any kinds of malware or other code that could later be activated.”

But others say there is a problem. In remarks at the University of Texas at Austin in April, Joel Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive, the nation’s most senior counterintelligence coordinator, indicated there are threats to the grid.

“We have seen Chinese network operations inside certain of our electricity grids,” he said in prepared remarks. “Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do.”

In an e-mailed statement, Wellinghoff’s press secretary, Mary O’Driscoll, says the chairman defers to senior intelligence officials on some questions concerning grid vulnerability to cyberattack: “The Commission isn’t in the intelligence gathering business and therefore can’t comment on that type of information.”

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Excerpts from FRANK HARTZELL’s article in the Mendocino Beacon, June 4, 2009

13298_DIA_0_opt picOcean Power Technologies’ subsidiary California Wave Energy Partners in it’s “wave energy project proposed off Cape Mendocino has surrendered its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) preliminary permit, making two major companies that have abandoned the area in the past two weeks.

The moves come at a time when President Obama’s energy policy has cut funding for wave energy in favor of solar and wind energy development.

The withdrawals leave GreenWave Energy Solutions LLC, with a permit off Mendocino, as the only local wave energy project.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced earlier this month they would not seek to develop wave energy off Fort Bragg. However, PG&E has not yet legally abandoned its FERC preliminary permit.

California Wave Energy Partners did just that on May 26, telling FERC their parent company, Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) was pulling out of California in favor of developing wave energy more seriously in Oregon.

The project was proposed near Centerville off Humboldt County, south of Eureka on the remote coast of Cape Mendocino.

“OPT subsidiaries are also developing two other projects at Coos Bay and Reedsport,” wrote Herbert Nock of OPT. “During the process of developing these projects, OPT has learned the importance of community involvement in the project definition and permitting process.

“OPT therefore feels it is in the best interests of all parties to focus its efforts (in Oregon) at this time. This will allow the time and resources necessary to responsibly develop these sites for the benefit of the coastal community and the state,” Nock wrote.

The Cape Mendocino project was to be situated in a prime wave energy spot, but with connections to the power grid still to be determined. The project was never the subject of a public meeting in Mendocino County and stayed under the radar compared to several other Humboldt County projects. PG&E still plans to develop its WaveConnect project off Eureka.

Brandi Ehlers, a PG&E spokeswoman, said PG&E plans to relinquish the preliminary permit for the Mendocino Wave Connect project soon.

She said the utility spent $75,000 on the Mendocino County portion of Wave Connect before stopping because Noyo Harbor was ill-equipped to deal with an offshore energy plant.

“PG&E is not currently pursuing applications for new FERC hydrokinetic preliminary permits, but it is important that we continue to explore other possibilities,” Ehlers said in response to a question.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has announced that his department will host 12 public workshops this month to discuss the newly-issued regulatory program for renewable energy development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.

All the meetings are to be held in large cities — in Seattle June 24, Portland on June 25, and San Francisco on June 26.

Salazar restarted the process of building a framework for energy development in the ocean, which had been started in the Bush Administration but never finished.

The new program establishes a process for granting leases, easements, and rights-of-way for offshore renewable energy projects as well as methods for sharing revenues generated from OCS renewable energy projects with adjacent coastal States. The rules for alternative energy development in the oceans become effective June 29.

Most of the actual ocean energy development figures are for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The Pacific Ocean’s near-shore slopes are too steep and too deep for current wind energy technology. Wave and tidal energy are still in their infancy, not seen as able to help with President Obama’s energy plan.

The Obama administration has proposed a 25% cut in the research and development budget for wave and tidal power, according to an in-depth report in the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune.

At the same time the White House sought an 82% increase in solar power research funding, a 36% increase in wind power funding and a 14% increase in geothermal funding. But it looked to cut wave and tidal research funding from $40 million to $30 million, the News Tribune reported.

Interior’s Minerals Management Service, the agency charged with regulating renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf [and specifically wind energy projects], is organizing and conducting the workshops, which will begin with a detailed presentation and then open the floor to a question and answer session. All workshops are open to the public and anyone interested in offshore renewable energy production is encouraged to participate.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, May 20, 2009

Mendocino-Energy-Mill-SiteAt this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions…with acumen.

Start-ups, utilities companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

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SustainableBusiness.com News, April 30, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA bill introduced in the Senate aims to encourage development of renewable ocean energy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today introduced the legislation as a companion to a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), that would authorize as much as $250 million a year to promote ocean research.

The Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2009 and a companion tax provision would expand federal research of marine energy, take over the cost verification of new wave, current, tidal and thermal ocean energy devices, create an adaptive management fund to help pay for the demonstration and deployment of such electric projects and provide a key additional tax incentive.

“Coming from Alaska, where there are nearly 150 communities located along the state’s 34,000 miles of coastline plus dozens more on major river systems, it’s clear that perfecting marine energy could be of immense benefit to the nation,” said Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It simply makes sense to harness the power of the sun, wind, waves and river and ocean currents to make electricity.”

The legislation would:

  • Authorize the U.S. Department of Energy to increase its research and development effort. The bill also encourages efforts to allow marine energy to work in conjunction with other forms of energy, such as offshore wind, and authorizes more federal aid to assess and deal with any environmental impacts. 
  • Allow for the creation of a federal Marine-Based Energy Device Verification program in which the government would test and certify the performance of new marine technologies to reduce market risks for utilities purchasing power from such projects.
  • Authorize the federal government to set up an adaptive management program, and a fund to help pay for the regulatory permitting and development of new marine technologies.
  • And a separate bill, likely to be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration, would ensure marine projects benefit from being able to accelerate the depreciation of their project costs over five years–like some other renewable energy technologies currently can do. The provision should enhance project economic returns for private developers

 The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that ocean resources in the United States could generate 252 million megawatt hours of electricity–6.5% of America’s entire electricity generation–if ocean energy gained the same financial and research incentives currently enjoyed by other forms of renewable energy.

“This bill, if approved, will bring us closer to a level playing field so that ocean energy can compete with wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies to generate clean energy,” Murkowski said.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThree miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, California, deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave energy project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean energy generated by waves, tidal currents or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1% of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17% of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5% of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, California, in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10% of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior — MMS last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal power and nine wave power permits with another 20 tidal current, four wave energy, and three ocean current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave and offshore wind energy have the largest potential.

“Wave energy technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave energy companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind energy if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave energy compares favorably to wind energy,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind energy is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore energy. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20% of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind energy can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10% wave energy and 90% wind energy.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, April 23, 2009

images3In Octoberr 2008 Grays Harbor Ocean Energy applied for seven Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) preliminary permits for projects located in the Atlantic Ocean about 12 to 25 miles offshore off the coasts of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and in the Pacific Ocean about 5 to 30 miles off the coasts of California and Hawaii.

On April 9, 2009 FERC and MMS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) clarifying jurisdictional responsibilities for renewable energy projects in offshore waters on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The stated goals of this MOU are to establish a cohesive, streamlined process, encouraging development of wind, solar, and ocean or wave energy projects.

In this MOU, FERC agrees to not issue preliminary permits for ocean or wave projects that are located on the Outer Continental Shelf. 

And as a result, on April 17, 2009 FERC dismissed all seven Grays Harbor’s pending preliminary permit applications for its proposed wave projects as each and every project is located on the OCS.

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H. JOSEF HEBERT, AP/StarTribune, April 22, 2009

dept_of_interior_seal

Washington D.C. — The Interior Department issued long-awaited regulations on April 22, 2009 governing offshore renewable energy projects that would tap wind, ocean currents and waves to produce electricity.

The framework establishes how leases will be issued and sets in place revenue sharing with nearby coastal states that will receive 27.5% of the royalties that will be generated from the electricity production.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an interview that applications are expected for dozens of proposed offshore wind projects, many off the north and central Atlantic in the coming months. “This will open the gates for them to move forward … It sets the rules of the road,” Salazer said.

Actual lease approvals will take longer.

Salazar said he expects the first electricity production from some of the offshore projects in two or three years, probably off the Atlantic Coast.

President Barack Obama, marking Earth Day during an appearances in Iowa, welcomed “the bold steps toward opening America’s oceans and new energy frontier.”

The offshore leasing rules for electricity production from wind, ocean currents and tidal waves had stalled for two years because of a jurisdictional dispute between the Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over responsibility for ocean current projects.

That disagreement was resolved earlier this month in a memorandum of understanding signed by Salazar and FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

The department’s Minerals Management Service will control offshore wind and solar projects and issue leases and easements for wave and ocean current energy development. The energy regulatory agency will issue licenses for building and operating wave and ocean current projects.

Salazar repeatedly has championed the development of offshore wind turbine-generated energy, especially off the central Atlantic Coast where the potential for wind as an electricity source is believe to be huge.

He said he has had numerous requests from governors and senators from Atlantic Coastal states to move forward with offshore wind development. State are interested in not only the close availability of wind-generated electricity for the populous Northeast, but also the potential for additional state revenue.

“We expect there will be significant revenue that will be generated,” Salazar said.

Under the framework nearby coastal states would receive 27.5% and the federal government the rest.

Currently there is a proposal for a wind farm off Nantucket Sound, Mass., known as Cape Wind, which has been under review separately from the regulation announced Wednesday. The Interior Department said no decision has been made on the Cape Wind project, but if it is approved it will be subject to the terms of the new rules.

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COLIN SULLIVAN, The New York Times, April 14, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPalo Alto — Technology for tapping ocean waves, tides and rivers for electricity is far from commercial viability and lagging well behind wind, solar and other fledgling power sectors, a panel of experts said last week during a forum here on climate change and marine ecosystems.

While the potential for marine energy is great, ocean wave and tidal energy projects are still winding their way through an early research and development phase, these experts said.

“It’s basically not commercially financeable yet,” said Edwin Feo, a partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, during a conference at Stanford University. “They are still a long ways from getting access to the capital and being deployed, because they are simply immature technologies.”

Ocean and tidal energy are renewable sources that can be used to meet California’s renewable portfolio standard of 10 percent of electricity by 2010. But the industry has been hampered by uncertainty about environmental effects, poor economics, jurisdictional tieups and scattered progress for a handful of entrepreneurs.

Finavera Renewables, based in British Columbia, recently canceled all of its wave projects, bringing to a close what was the first permit for wave power from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And last fall, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) denied Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s application for a power purchase agreement with Finavera Renewables, citing the technology’s immaturity.

Roger Bedard, head of the Electric Power Research Institute’s wave power research unit, said the United States is at least five and maybe 10 years away from the first commercial project in marine waters. A buoy at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii is the only wave-powered device that has been connected to the power grid so far in the United States. The first pilot tidal project, in New York’s East River, took five years to get a permit from FERC.

Feo, who handles renewable energy project financing at his law firm, says more than 80 ocean, tidal and river technologies are being tested by start-ups that do not have much access to capital or guarantee of long-term access to their resource. That has translated into little interest from the investment community.

“Most of these companies are start-ups,” Feo said. “From a project perspective, that doesn’t work. People who put money into projects expect long-term returns.”

William Douros of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expressed similar concerns and said agency officials have been trying to sort through early jurisdictional disputes and the development of some technologies that would “take up a lot of space on the sea floor.”

“You would think offshore wave energy projects are a given,” Douros said. “And yet, from our perspective, from within our agency, there are still a lot of questions.”

‘Really exciting times’

But the belief in marine energy is there in some quarters, prompting the Interior Department to clear up jurisdictional disputes with FERC for projects outside 3 miles from state waters. Under an agreement announced last week, Interior will issue leases for offshore wave and current energy development, while FREC will license the projects.

The agreement gives Interior’s Minerals Management Service exclusive jurisdiction over the production, transportation or transmission of energy from offshore wind and solar projects. MMS and FERC will share responsibilities for hydrokinetic projects, such as wave, tidal and ocean current.

Maurice Hill, who works on the leasing program at MMS, said the agency is developing “a comprehensive approach” to offshore energy development. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar himself has been holding regional meetings and will visit San Francisco this week to talk shop as part of that process.

Hill said MMS and the U.S. Geological Survey will issue a report within 45 days on potential development and then go public with its leasing program.

“These next couple of months are really exciting times, especially on the OCS,” he said.

Still, Hill acknowledged that the industry is in an early stage and said federal officials are approaching environmental effects especially with caution.

“We don’t know how they’ll work,” he said. “We’re testing at this stage.”

‘Highly energetic’ West Coast waves

But if projects do lurch forward, the Electric Power Research Institute’s Bedard said, the resource potential is off the charts. He believes it is possible to have 10 gigawatts of ocean wave energy online by 2025, and 3 gigawatts of river and ocean energy up in the same time frame.

The potential is greatest on the West Coast, Bedard said, where “highly energetic” waves pound the long coastline over thousands of miles. Alaska and California have the most to gain, he said, with Oregon, Washington and Hawaii not far behind.

To Feo, a key concern is the length of time MMS chooses to issue leases to developers. He said the typical MMS conditional lease time of two, three or five years won’t work for ocean wave technology because entrepreneurs need longer-term commitments to build projects and show investors the industry is here to say.

“It just won’t work” at two, three or five years, Feo said. “Sooner or later, you have to get beyond pilot projects.”

Hill refused to answer questions about the length of the leases being considered by MMS.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 25, 2009

aquamarine-power_fb8xa_69

Aquamarine Power has signed a $2.7 million contract with Fugro Seacore to install their wave energy generator, the Oyster, at the European Marine Energy Center.

Aquamarine’s Oyster converter is designed for waters that are from 26-52 feet deep with anticipated installation 550 yards offshore in the second half of 2009.  The Oyster has a wave action pump sending pressured water in a pipeline to an electricity generator.

The generator, to be built in Orkney, Scotland, is expected to produce between 300 and 600 kilowatts for Scotland’s national grid.

The contract is part of the Scottish government’s goal to derive 50% its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

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Cherry Creek News Staff, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – In a joint statement issued today Secretary of the Interior (DOI), Ken Salazar and Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Jon Wellinghoff announced that the two agencies have confirmed their intent to work together to facilitate the permitting of renewable energy in offshore waters.

“Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress. I am proud that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding our respective roles in approving offshore renewable energy projects. This agreement will help sweep aside red tape so that our country can capture the great power of wave, tidal, wind and solar power off our coasts,” Secretary Salazar said.

“FERC is pleased to be working with the Department of the Interior and Secretary Salazar on a procedure that will help get renewable energy projects off the drawing board and onto the Outer Continental Shelf,” Acting FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

Below is the joint Statement between DOI and FERC signed by Secretary Salazar and Acting Chairmain Wellinghoff:

JOINT STATEMENT BY THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR AND THE ACTING CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES ON THE OUTER CONTINENTAL SHELF

The United States has significant renewable energy resources in offshore waters, including wind energy, solar energy, and wave and ocean current energy.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Minerals Management Service, has the authority to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way on the outer continental shelf for the development of oil and gas resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide the Interior Department with parallel permitting authority with regard to the production, transportation, or transmission of energy from additional sources of energy on the outer continental shelf, including renewable energy sources.

The Interior Department’s responsibility for the permitting and development of renewable energy resources on the outer continental shelf is broad. In particular, the Department of the Interior has permitting and development authority over wind power projects that use offshore resources beyond state waters.

Interior’s authority does not diminish existing responsibilities that other agencies have with regard to the outer continental shelf. In that regard, under the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the statutory responsibility to oversee the development of hydropower resources in navigable waters of the United States. “Hydrokinetic” power potentially can be developed offshore through new technologies that seek to convert wave, tidal and ocean current energy to electricity. FERC will have the primary responsibility to manage the licensing of such projects in offshore waters pursuant to the Federal Power Act, using procedures developed for hydropower licenses, and with the active involvement of relevant federal land and resource agencies, including the Department of the Interior.

We have requested our staffs to prepare a short Memorandum of Understanding that sets forth these principles, and which describes the process by which permits and licenses related to renewable energy resources in offshore waters will be developed.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 17, 2009

Here’s a map indicating the measurement of wave energy flux around the world:  

Average Annual Wave Energy Flux (kW/m)

Average Annual Wave Energy Flux (kW/m)

From March 2009 Greentech Innovations Report.

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H. JOSEF HEBERT, The Associated Press, March 16, 2009

While the Obama administration has touted offshore renewable energy development, a turf fight between two federal agencies has stymied the government’s ability to issue rules needed to approve wind energy projects off America’s coasts.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday the infighting has got to stop.

“It will be resolved,” Salazar said in response to questions about the dispute. “We will not let any of the jurisdictional turf battles of the past get in the way of our moving forward with the renewable energy agenda.”

The dispute, which dates to late 2007, pits the Interior Department against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over which entity should approve projects that use coastal waves and currents to produce power.

Offshore wind development has been entangled in the dispute because Interior’s Mineral Management Service does not want to separate wind projects from the tidal wave, or hydrokinetic power, programs – which FERC in turn has refused to surrender, according to several officials who have followed the dispute.

Interior and FERC are said to be close to agreement on a “memorandum of understanding” that would delineate each organization’s involvement in the offshore renewable energy approval process.

Salazar has been vocal in his call for more aggressive development of renewable energy projects off the country’s coasts, especially off the northern and central Atlantic. He said the governors of New Jersey and Delaware have asked what is holding up the regulations and said projects off their coasts are ready to go.

Jon Wellinghoff, acting chairman of FERC, played down the interagency dispute and – like Salazar – said he was confident the problem will soon be worked out.

“It’s less of a dispute than people say it is,” insisted Wellinghoff in a brief interview, adding that he doubted it has stopped any wind projects.

“It has nothing to do with wind. It only has to do with our jurisdiction over hydrokinetic systems, whether they are on the Outer Continental Shelf or not,” said Wellinghoff. He said he saw no reason why the Mineral Management Service would insist on viewing the tidal wave and wind issues together.

Salazar over the past week met with Wellinghoff to try to work out a memorandum of understanding that could be issued as early as this week. Both men are expected to be asked about the disagreement at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday.

“If we don’t resolve the jurisdictional issues between FERC and the Department of Interior, we are not going to be able to move forward in the development of our offshore renewable energy resources,” said Salazar.

Mike Olsen, an attorney who represents Deep Water Wind, a company that wants to build a 96-turbine wind farm off the New Jersey coast, calls the dispute a classic government turf battle.

“It’s two agencies both feeling each has specific authority and jurisdiction. Neither one wants to yield its authority or jurisdiction to the other,” said Olsen, who as a deputy assistant Interior secretary in the Bush administration observed the dispute first hand.

Interior waged “a full court press” to get the rules on offshore renewable energy development finalize last year, Olsen said, but the effort was thwarted by the lack of an agreement with FERC.

“From our perspective the rule was ready to go in November,” said Olsen. But despite involvement of the Bush White House, no memorandum of understanding on the jurisdiction issue could be hammered out between Interior and FERC.

With a new administration on the horizon “the battle was put on hold,” he said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2009

17transition2-6001Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he has just signed his first order establishing renewable energy generation as the top priority of the Department of the Interior. Following President Obama’s lead in steering the United States into this new energy path, he said this agenda would create jobs and grow investment and innovation at home. Also noted was that the DOI will focus mostly in western states for generation of electricity through renewable energy (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass).

Secretary Salazar illustrated this opportunity with the Bureau of Land Management backlog over 200 solar energy projects and over 20 wind projects in western states alone. There have yet been any permits or jobs created for these renewable energy projects to be fast-tracked in consideration, evaluated in terms of environmental impact and anticipating the acceptable projects will move forward swiftly.

Starting today, renewable energy projects in solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass will benefit in priority treatment to generate electricity and renewable energy. And Secretary Salazar stated that a newly-formed energy and climate change task force is already working hard, nights and weekend to develop these plans (since January 20th) for presentation to a Dept. of Energy committee soon. 

In tandem, Secretary Salazar indicated that through cross-departmental effort (BLM, EPA, Dept. of Energy, MMS, FERC and others), his goal is to rapidly and responsibly move forward with Obama’s renewable energy agenda to develop and upgrade the United States electric transmission grid.  

When asked about Cape Wind off Cape Cod, Mr. Salazar indicate that “after we hold our hearings around the country [for MMS rulemaking] the jurisdictional issues between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Minerals Management Service shall be accomplished within this year.” Many projects are being inhibited and we are actively clearing the path to move forward.

The roadshow planned by Secretary Salazar shall help identify renewable energy zones (solar energy in western states minus ecological sensitivity (reduction). He explained that today, through solar energy in the western states alone, we may produce 88% of all of the energy needs and adding wind takes it over 100%. This also fuels the need for a national transmission system as a high priority.

Salazar also called for the need to finalize and renew offshore renewable energy rules that protect the United States landscapes, wildlife and environment as we serve as steward of our lands.

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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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MATTHEW MCDERMOTT, Treehuger.com, February 10, 2009

3268992893_da741f3657Based off the Aberdeen, Scotland-based company’s Ocean Treader, the Wave Treader is designed to mount onto the tower of an offshore wind turbine.

The Wave Treader concept utilizes the arms and sponsons from Ocean Treader and instead of reacting against a floating spar buoy, will react through an interface structure onto the foundation of an offshore wind turbine. Between the arms and the interface structure hydraulic cylinders are mounted and as the wave passes the machine first the forward sponson will lift and fall and then the aft sponson will lift and fall each stroking their hydraulic cylinder in turn. This pressurizes hydraulic fluid which is then smoothed by hydraulic accumulators before driving a hydraulic motor which in turn drives an electricity generator. The electricity is then exported through the cable shared with the wind turbine.

Each Wave Treader is rated at 500kW and can turn to face into the waves to ensure optimal power generation. The first full-size prototype is expected to be built later this year, with commercial versions being made available in 2011.

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STEPHEN POWER, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2009
images1Interior Secretary Ken Salazar indicated Tuesday that the Obama Administration could be open to expanded offshore drilling and is considering doing away with a controversial program that allows oil companies to pay in kind for oil and natural gas taken from public lands.

Salazar inherited a Bush Administration plan that would open tracts off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts where drilling had previously been prohibited. Environmental groups want the Obama administration to re-impose a ban on expanded offshore drilling that President George W. Bush lifted last year.

Asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal whether President Barack Obama might try to reinstate the ban, Salazar paused 18 seconds before saying: “I don’t know.”

“We have significant drilling already in many places of the Gulf coast. We have drilling in many places off the Alaska shorelines. There are other places that hold potential for exploration. We’ll develop our guidelines as to how we’re going to look at it. But we’re still at the beginning of an information-gathering process,” he said.

Asked about the Bush administration’s proposal to open certain areas of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling and whether he saw any opportunities for expanded development of the nation’s offshore areas, Salazar said: “When you look at the whole [outer continental shelf], it’s a huge potential. And it has to be done carefully. We don’t want to ruin the beaches of Florida and the coastlines of other places that are sensitive.”

“On the other hand, there are places where it may be appropriate for us to have reconnaissance and exploration and even development. Those are questions that we are exploring and hopefully over the months ahead we’ll have answers to these questions,” he said.

Salazar left the door open to curtailing the “royalty-in-kind” program, under which the government receives oil or natural gas instead of cash for payments of royalties from companies that lease federal property for oil and gas development, and then sells the product into the marketplace and returns the proceeds to the Treasury. “We’re going to put everything on the table — I think everything needs to be looked at,” Salazar said.

Meanwhile, Salazar said new legislation may be needed to overhaul the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, a bureau of Interior that manages the nation’s offshore oil and natural gas reserves.

Salazar said his top priority is to restore confidence in the agency, and in particular the MMS, which was rocked last fall by a report from the department’s inspector general that accused some MMS employees of accepting gifts from and having sex with oil and gas industry representatives whose activities they were supposed to regulate.

Although the Bush administration late last year announced disciplinary action ranging from warnings to termination of more than a half-dozen workers implicated in the report, Salazar said he is mulling “whether additional actions are required.”

Many environmental groups are looking to Salazar to reverse certain policy changes made in the final months of the Bush administration, including new regulations on commercial oil-shale development that the groups say lock in inappropriately low royalty rates for energy firms. Salazar said he and his aides intend to review “all those issues” and that “I expect that there will be changes.”

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Let Your Voice Be Heard by March 23, 2009

by MendoCoastCurrent and pointarenabasin

Beginning January 22, 2009 and ending on March 23, 2009, a 60-day Public Comment Period opened regarding new offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling in the pristine waters off northern California.

And while this is a multi-step process and before things are cast in stone, NOW is the time to share your views.

FROM THE FEDERAL REGISTER – REQUEST FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR – Minerals Management Service

Request for Comments on the Draft Proposed 5-Year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 and Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Proposed 5-Year Program

AGENCY: Minerals Management Service, Interior.

ACTION: Request for Comments.

SUMMARY: The Minerals Management Service (MMS) requests comments on the Draft Proposed 5-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 (DPP). This draft proposal is for a new oil and gas program to succeed the current program that is currently set to expire on June 30, 2012, and forms the basis for conducting the studies and analyses the Secretary will consider in making future decisions on what areas of the OCS to include in the program.

DATES: Please submit comments and information to the MMS no later than March 23, 2009.

LINK:  Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Under the tab “More Search Options,” click “Advanced Docket Search,” then select “Minerals Management Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click the submit button. In the Docket ID column, select MMS-2008-OMM-0045 to submit public comments and to view related materials available for this Notice.

Mail or hand-carry comments to the Department of the Interior; Minerals Management Service; Attention: Leasing Division (LD); 381 Elden Street, MS-4010; Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817. Please reference “2010-2015 Oil and Gas Leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf,” in your comments and include your name and return address.

Summary of the Draft Proposed Program

In developing the DPP for 2010-2015, the MMS considered oil and gas leasing in the areas of the OCS that are included in the current 5-year program for 2007-2012 and additional areas off Alaska, Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic coast. Some of these additional areas had been subject to annual congressional moratoria prohibiting oil and gas leasing. However, the moratoria expired on September 30, 2008. The DPP includes lease sales in offshore areas that have the highest oil and gas resource values and highest industry interest.

It has been promoted that 47 comments from oil and gas companies or associations nominated specific planning areas to be included in the new 5-Year program; some nominated all planning area.  

Wave energy reporter Frank Hartzell claims that the nominations may have been fabricated, see In Last Days, Bush Inflicts North Coast Offshore Oil Plan.

Table A–Draft Proposed Program for 2010-2015–Lease Sale Schedule

———————————————————————

Sale Number Area Year

———————————————————————

236…………………… Northern California………..2014

Pacific Region

The Pacific Region consists of 4 planning areas–Washington-Oregon, Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. The DPP schedules one sale in the Northern California Planning Area and two in the Southern California Planning Area. The proposed sales are in areas of known hydrocarbon potential – the Point Arena Basin in Northern California.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Preparation

Pursuant to section 102(2)(C) of NEPA, the MMS intends to prepare an EIS for the new 5-year OCS oil and gas leasing program for 2010-2015. This notice starts the formal scoping process for the EIS under 40 CFR 1501.7, and solicits information regarding issues and alternatives that should be evaluated in the EIS. The EIS will analyzethe potential impacts of the adoption of the proposed 5-year program.

The comments that MMS has received in response to the August 2008, Request for Comments, and the comments received during scoping for the 2007-2012 5-Year EIS have identified environmental issues and concerns that MMS will consider in the EIS. In summary, these include climate change as an impact factor in cumulative analyses, the effects of the OCS program on climate change, potential impacts from accidental oil spills, potential impacts to tourism and recreation activities, and ecological impacts from potential degradation of marine and coastal habitats. Additionally alternatives will be developed and analyzed during the EIS process based on scoping comments and governmental communications. Alternatives may include increasing or decreasing the number or frequency of sales, coastal buffers, limiting areas available for leasing, and excluding parts of or entire planning areas.

Scoping Meetings

Meetings will be held between now and March 23, 2009 to receive scoping comments on the EIS including –

Ft. Bragg/Ukiah, California; TBA

Next Steps in the Process

The MMS plans to issue the proposed program and draft EIS in mid-summer 2009 for a 90-day comment period and plans to issue the proposed final program and final EIS in spring 2010. The Secretary of the Interior may approve the new 5-year program 60 days later to go into effect as of July 1, 2010.

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JANE KAY, San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 2009

ba-drilling0117__sfcg1232159552_part1The U.S. Interior Department, acting in President Bush’s final days in office, proposed on Friday opening up 130 million acres off of California’s coast to drilling for oil and natural gas, including areas off Humboldt and Mendocino counties and from San Luis Obispo south to San Diego.

After a hands-off policy for a quarter-century, the administration submitted plans to sell oil and gas leases for most of the U.S. coast, from the Gulf of Maine to Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast.

New drilling also was proposed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the nation’s most plentiful sources of fish, and the Arctic Ocean.

Washington, Oregon and protected parts of Florida were excluded along with waters off San Francisco Bay that lie within national marine sanctuaries.

On Friday, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups greeted the news with praise, saying it is time for domestic energy supplies to be released from the moratorium.

But environmental groups and some Democratic leaders who oppose California drilling criticized the 11th-hour move, vowing to work with the Obama administration to promote energy independence based on clean, renewable technologies.

“President Bush’s last-ditch effort to open our coasts to new drilling is nothing more than a parting gift to his buddies in the oil and gas industry,” said Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the platform blowout that spilled 3 million gallons of black crude oil on 35 miles of beaches around Santa Barbara, Capps said, “New offshore drilling would not lower gas prices, make us more energy independent or get our economy back on track.”

Richard Charter, a longtime environmental lobbyist who now works for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, called the government’s move “an extremist act.”

“What we see today is the political equivalent of a rock star trashing the hotel room right before checkout,” he said.

The Interior Department used a lapse in the congressional moratorium in October and a cancellation of a presidential prohibition in July to set in motion the lease-sale program – which the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama could cancel or proceed with.

Obama has said he would consider some offshore oil drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Obama’s pick for interior secretary, hasn’t given his views on offshore drilling in California. He said in his confirmation hearings Thursday that he will confer with the administration’s team.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with the governors of Oregon and Washington, opposes new offshore oil drilling despite the new revenue it would offer the cash-strapped state.

The federal government has failed to make a case for a new program because energy resources are insignificant in the Atlantic, Pacific and eastern Gulf of Mexico, already-sold leases aren’t being used, and no protections are in place to protect the environment, the governors said.

In Friday’s announcement, Interior Department officials proposed three new lease sales, one in Northern California and two in Southern California in “areas with known hydrocarbon potential.” The proposals, which were based on requests from seven oil companies that weren’t named, would include:

— As many as 44 million acres of federal waters, which start 3 miles from the shoreline, off Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

— As many as 89 million acres off of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties. One lease would require equipment operating at a diagonal to drill within the Santa Barbara Ecological Preserve. In Southern California, there are 79 existing leases with 43 producing and 36 undeveloped.

There will be a 60-day comment period, with hearings in Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego. Dates for the hearings have not been announced.

If sales are allowed, they could occur as soon as 2014.

About 60%  of California citizens who commented on new oil-and-gas development were opposed to new drilling, according to the Interior Department’s oil-drilling agency, the Minerals Management Service.

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MICHAEL FALCONE, The New York Times, January 16, 2009

On January 15, 2009, Senator Ken Salazar pledged to “clean up the mess” at the Interior Department if he is confirmed as the next chief of the department, which has been plagued by ethics scandals.

Mr. Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, also said he shared President Obama’s commitment to ending the country’s dependence on foreign oil, a goal that he said could be achieved, in part, through greater use of renewable resources like solar and wind power.

But he avoided specifics when members of the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources, who are considering his confirmation, pressed him on whether he supported an expansion of oil extraction from public lands and offshore drilling. 

On the question of whether to open more areas off the coasts to oil exploration, Mr. Salazar said there might be some areas where it would be appropriate and “other places that are off limits.”

The full Senate voted Thursday to set aside two million acres in nine states as protected wilderness. Approval is expected in the House.

Mr. Salazar, who was a farmer and rancher before he entered public life, also promised that on his watch the agency, which has jurisdiction over vast expanses of federal lands, would not be focused solely on the western half of the United States.

“I want this department to be America’s department,” he said.

Mr. Salazar also fielded questions on a variety of other topics, including the Endangered Species Act and changes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

He kept his answers short, and often vague, but appeared to breeze through the hearing before a committee of his legislative colleagues.

Senator Ron Wyden,  Democrat of Oregon, said that it had turned into a “full-fledged bouquet-tossing contest.”

But Mr. Wyden warned Mr. Salazar that he had some “very heavy lifting ahead,” and sought assurances that he would review some decisions made by Bush administration officials to see if they were politically tainted.

Mr. Salazar said, “We will review what decisions have been made to see whether there is action necessary to make sure that they’re in compliance with the law and to make sure they’re in compliance with the science.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 7, 2009

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher today issued the following statement:

Today I announce my intention to step down as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), effective January 20, 2009. Although my term as commissioner does not end until 2012, I will also immediately begin to recuse myself from FERC business, as I explore other career opportunities.  

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DAVID EHRLICH, Earth2Tech/GigaOm, December 23, 2008

environmental_defenseOcean energy could have a big part to play under President-elect Barack Obama’s environmentally friendly administration, but a coalition that’s pushing for more wave and tidal power says change is needed to expand the number of projects in the U.S. Right now, there are only a handful of ocean energy projects in the U.S. and they’re all in the testing phase, according to the coalition.

The group, which is led by the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, said it has met with Obama’s transition team to discuss what it says is a confusing, and sometimes contradictory, array of federal regulations for ocean power. It claims that with federal help, ocean energy has the potential to generate 10% of the country’s demand for electricity, as well as create tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.

Earlier this month, Obama named four key members to his cabinet that will be responsible for energy and climate change, including Steven Chu as energy secretary.

One big conflict the new cabinet may have to deal with is a jurisdictional dispute between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Minerals Management Service, part of the Dept. of the Interior. Both agencies have claims on the waters where ocean energy projects would be installed.

Part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Minerals Management Service the power to issue leases for renewable energy projects in the outer continental shelf a zone of federally owned seabeds outside of state waters, which the coalition said typically covers an area from 3-200 nautical miles offshore.

But that new law didn’t eliminate any preexisting federal authority in the area, and the FERC has said it has the authority to license wave and tidal projects in U.S. territorial waters covering an area within 12 nautical miles of the shore.

According to the coalition, despite negotiations between the two agencies, they’ve been unable to reach an agreement on the overlapping claims. The group said that the continued uncertainty from that conflict is making it harder to lock down financing for ocean energy projects in the States.

The coalition is made up of local governments, utilities, environmental groups and ocean power companies, including Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies, which recently inked a deal to develop wave power projects off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.

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JANE KAY, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 2008

ba-drilling1229__sfcg1230351957The federal government is taking steps that may open California’s fabled coast to oil drilling in as few as three years, an action that could place dozens of platforms off the Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt coasts, and raises the specter of spills, air pollution and increased ship traffic into San Francisco Bay.

Millions of acres of oil deposits, mapped in the 1980s when then-Interior Secretary James Watt and Energy Secretary Donald Hodel pushed for California exploration, lie a few miles from the forested North Coast and near the mouth of the Russian River, as well as off Malibu, Santa Monica and La Jolla in Southern California.

“These are the targets,” said Richard Charter, a lobbyist for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund who worked for three decades to win congressional bans on offshore drilling. “You couldn’t design a better formula to create adverse impacts on California’s coastal-dependent economy.”

The bans that protected both of the nation’s coasts beginning in 1981, from California to the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Coast and the Straits of Florida, ended this year when Congress let the moratorium lapse.

President-elect Barack Obama hasn’t said whether he would overturn President Bush’s lifting last summer of the ban on drilling, as gas prices reached a historic high. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Col., Obama’s pick as interior secretary and head of the nation’s ocean-drilling agency, hasn’t said what he would do in coastal waters.

The Interior Department has moved to open some or all federal waters, which begin 3 miles from shore and are outside state control, for exploration as early as 2010. Rigs could go up in 2012.

National marine sanctuaries off San Francisco and Monterey bays are off-limits in California. Areas open to drilling extend from Bodega Bay north to the Oregon border and from Morro Bay south to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Drilling foes say the impacts of explosive blasts from seismic air guns that map rock formations, increased vessel traffic and oil spills should be enough to persuade federal agencies to thwart petroleum exploration. California’s treasured coast, with its migrating whales, millions of seabirds, sea otters, fish and crab feeding grounds, beaches and tidal waters, are at risk, Charter and other opponents say.

According to the Interior Department, coastal areas nationwide that were affected by the drilling ban contain 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in what the agency called yet-to-be-discovered fields. The estimates are conservative and are based on seismic surveys in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before the moratorium went into effect.

California’s Share

The agency’s last estimate puts about 10 billion barrels in California, enough to supply the nation for 17 months. That breaks down to 2.1 billion barrels from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border, 2.3 billion from Point Arena south to San Luis Obispo County and 5.6 billion between there and Mexico.

“If you were allowed to go out and do new exploration, those numbers could go up or down. In most cases, you would expect them to go up,” said Dave Smith, deputy communications officer of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees energy development in federal waters.

In California, any exploration and drilling would be close to shore, experts say. In contrast to the Gulf of Mexico, where drilling could occur in waters 10,000 feet deep, California’s holdings lie on its narrow, shallow continental shelf, the underwater edge of land where creatures died over the millennia to produce the oil.

If the Interior Department decides to explore off California’s coast, it could probably do so, some attorneys say. If a state objects to a lease plan, the president has the final say.

Once an area has been leased, the California Coastal Commission may review an oil company’s plan to explore or extract resources to assess if it is consistent with the state’s coastal management program. Conflicts can end up in court, said Alison Dettmer, the commission’s deputy director.

Californians have generally opposed drilling since a platform blowout in 1969 splashed 3 million gallons of black, gooey crude oil on 35 miles of beaches around Santa Barbara, killing otters and seabirds. The destruction of shoreline and wildlife sparked activism and led to the creation of the Coastal Commission.

But when gas prices peaked a few months ago amid cries of “drill, baby, drill” at rallies for GOP presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin, 51 percent of Californians said they favored more offshore drilling, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

In July, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne jump-started the development of a new oil and natural gas leasing program and pushed up possible new coastal activity by two years.

The Interior Department is reviewing comments about which coastal areas to include in the next five-year leasing plan. Oil companies want all of the nation’s coastal areas open and say they can produce oil offshore in a way that protects the environment. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposes new offshore development, has offered comments, as have environmental groups.

Obama’s Energy Plans

Obama’s administration and Congress will have the final say over which regions, if any, would be put up for possible lease sales. In Congress earlier this year, Salazar, Obama’s nominee for interior secretary, supported a bipartisan bill allowing exploration and production 50 miles out from the southern Atlantic coast with state approval. The bill died.

“We’ve been encouraged that the president-elect has chosen Sen. Salazar,” said Dan Naatz, vice president for federal resources with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a group with 5,000 members that drill 90% of the oil and natural gas wells in the United States. “He’s from the West, and he understands federal land policy, which is really key.”

During this year’s presidential campaign, Obama was bombarded by questions about high gas prices and said new domestic drilling wouldn’t do much to lower gasoline prices but could have a place in a comprehensive energy program.

After introducing his green team of environment and energy chiefs recently, Obama said the foundation of the nation’s energy independence lies in the “power of wind and solar, in new crops and new technologies, in the innovation of our scientists and entrepreneurs and the dedication and skill of our workforce.”

He spoke of moving “beyond our oil addiction,” creating “a new, hybrid economy” and investing in “renewable energy that will give life to new businesses and industries.”

Obama didn’t mention oil drilling. When a reporter asked him if he would reinstate the moratorium, he said he wasn’t happy that the moratorium was allowed to lapse in Congress without a broader thought to how the country was going to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

He reiterated his campaign position that he was open to the idea of offshore drilling if it was part of a comprehensive package, adding that he would turn over the question to his team.

In the 1970s and 1980s, before the moratorium on offshore drilling fully took effect, the federal government produced a series of maps showing areas in California of prospective interest to the oil industry. Those maps offer clues to where oil companies would bid if they had the opportunity.

North Coast

The last proposed lease sale in 1987, thwarted by the moratorium, would have opened 6.5 million acres off the North Coast. Off Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the tracts for sale lay from 3 to 27 miles offshore, and some of the 24 planned platforms, some of them 300 feet tall and each with dozens of wells, would have been visible from land.

Tourism and commercial fisheries would have been affected, according to an environmental review then, while as many as 240 new oil tanker trips from Fort Bragg and Eureka to San Francisco Bay refineries were predicted under the full development scenario. The probability of one or more spills occurring would be 94 percent for accidents involving 1,000 barrels or more, according to documents.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, recently said oil drilling will be part of a comprehensive energy policy focusing on renewable sources, but she would like to see drilling occur only on land and in the Gulf of Mexico where infrastructure is in place.

Capps well remembers the Santa Barbara spill almost 40 years ago.

“I was living in Goleta. I just had two children, and my husband was a young professor at UC Santa Barbara. It was a devastating experience,” she said. “The birds and other animals got trapped in the oil. So many people waded out in boots just inch by inch trying to rescue our wildlife. It ruined our tourism for many years.

“I think about it all the time, especially last week when we had had a spill at the same platform. It was a small spill, 1,000 gallons, but it was a wake-up call.”

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Keith Johnson, Environmental Capital in WSJ, September 15, 2008

Most of the renewable-energy business is busy fretting about the extension of federal tax credits, which expire at the end of this year. But the real story, it seems, is how clean energy’s biggest historical handicap is coming to be seen as one of its biggest selling points: its predictable cost.

Take offshore wind power, the holy grail of big renewable-energy projects. There’s lots of wind a few miles out at sea; go out far enough, and even Kennedys will stop complaining about eyesores. The U.S. Minerals Management Service, lately notorious for opening other things up, is opening up chunks of the U.S. coastline for wind-farm development.

The problem with offshore wind has always been the cost: The turbines cost more, and installing them and maintaining them costs more than their onshore cousins. That helped torpedo efforts in the U.S. to build offshore wind farms in the past. Or, as the NYT phrased it in its lengthy review of Delaware’s battle to become the first U.S. state to embrace offshore wind with the Bluewater Wind Park:

Offshore marine construction was wildly, painfully expensive — like standing in a cold shower and ripping up stacks of thousand-dollar bills.

How did a cold shower turn into an offshore wind farm blessed by same the local power company that had actively lobbied against it? Two words: energy prices.

From the NYT: “Energy markets went significantly higher — and scarily so, particularly in the last six months,” [Bluewater Wind boss Peter Mandelstam] said. Indeed, oil has skyrocketed, and the price of Appalachian coal has more than doubled this year. Tom Noyes, a Bluewater supporter, blogger, and Wilmington-based financial analyst, says that a year ago, “the numbers that both sides of this debate were throwing around were largely academic. Now, those numbers are visceral.” Against this backdrop of steadily climbing energy prices, Bluewater’s offer of stable-priced electricity — an inflation-adjusted 10 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 25 years — became something that no utility, it seems, could credibly oppose. “A few decision-makers got it early on,” Mandelstam said, “some got it slightly later and [local power company] Delmarva finally got it.”

Wind power is suddenly becoming more attractive because the fuel is free; what makes it expensive is the up-front capital costs of the turbines and wind farm installation. That’s almost the opposite case with power sources like natural gas, where the upfront costs are pretty low, and the fuel bill is the main variable.

At a time of wildly volatile oil, coal, and gas prices around the world, that kind of long-term price predictability is a big advantage. The city of Houston is saving money on its power bill after switching one-quarter of its municipal power needs to fixed-price wind-power contracts.

It worked on Delmarva, too. President Gary Stockbridge told Delaware state authorities one of the main reasons he was able to finally agree to purchase power from the Bluewater wind farm was that ratepayers wouldn’t get stuck with much higher utility bills—which is what Delmarva had initially warned about when it opposed the wind farm.

In just the last two months, though, oil prices have collapsed; crude fell below $100 Monday. So the question for Bluewater and every other embryonic offshore wind farm in the U.S. remains the same: Will fossil fuels stay pricey enough to keep renewable energy attractive, or are fresh subsidies the sector’s only hope?

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 16, 2008

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) claimed that it has jurisdiction over hydroelectric projects located on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), pointing to laws that define its role.

FERC addressed the jurisdictional question, raised by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Mineral Management Service (MMS), in the context of a rehearing order on two preliminary permits issued to PG&E to study the feasibility of developing wave energy projects in the OCS off the California coast. The projects are the Humboldt Project off the coast of the Samoa Peninsula in Humboldt County near Eureka, and the Mendocino Project off the coast of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.

Commissioner Philip Moeller said the development of viable hydrokinetic resources needs a streamlined process like FERC’s. “It is indisputable that renewable energy is a valuable resource and hydrokinetic projects could harness a vast resource of new hydropower,” he said. “Instead of legal battles, my preference, and this Commission’s, has been to reach out to federal agencies and states to work in a cooperative manner to the same goal: timely development of a new renewable power resource in a responsible manner after input from all affected stakeholders.”

MMS has asserted that FERC only has jurisdiction to issue licenses and preliminary permits for projects within state waters, which for most states is defined as extending three miles offshore. Projects beyond state waters are considered to be located in the OCS.

But FERC says the Federal Power Act (FPA) gives it two bases of authority to issue preliminary permits and licensees for hydroelectric projects located on the OCS. First, the law expressly grants FERC jurisdiction to license in “navigable waters” without limitation as well as in “streams or other bodies of water over which Congress has jurisdiction.” 

The second authority is for those projects located on “reservations” of the United States. FERC concludes that the OCS is land owned by the United States, qualifying it to be a “reservation” under the FPA. “The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently held that the United States owns the submerged lands off its shores, beginning from the low-water mark,” FERC said.

Finally, FERC addressed comments by MMS about the meaning of the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) as it relates to the jurisdiction question for hydroelectric projects located on the OCS. MMS asserted that EPAct 2005 intended for MMS to be the lead federal regulatory authority over wave and ocean current energy projects in the OCS.

In this order, FERC notes that EPAct 2005 does not limit the scope of its authority over hydroelectric power or withdraw FERC jurisdiction over projects in the OCS. “To the contrary, Congress expressly preserved the Commission’s comprehensive hydroelectric licensing authority under the FPA by including two saving clauses….,” FERC said.

FERC Chairman Kelliher stressed today that FERC recognizes the role of Interior, which through the Minerals Management Service (MMS) manages lands on the OCS. There is no conflict with FERC’s role as the licensing agency, he said.

“We have proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with MMS that carefully delineates the roles of the two agencies in a manner that respects both our licensing, and Interior’s resource, roles,” Kelliher said. “We stand ready to enter into the MOU to clarify those roles.”

A preliminary permit gives the holder of a permit priority over the site for three years while the holder studies the feasibility of developing the site. It does not authorize construction of any kind. A license authorizes construction and operation of a hydroelectric facility.

FERC’s order also finds that although two local governments, the City of Fort Bragg and Mendocino County, asserted that they did not receive personal notification from FERC of the filing of the preliminary permit applications, only Mendocino County acted in a timely manner once it received actual notice of the application in order to preserve its right to intervene. As a result, Mendocino County’s request for late intervention is granted. However, the order finds that Mendocino has not provided grounds for the Commission to revoke the Mendocino Project permit or to reopen that proceeding. The order also denies motions for late intervention in both proceedings by FISH Committee.

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MendoCoastCurrent, A Message from Richard Charter, September 29, 2008

The 27-year congressional offshore drilling moratorium will quietly lapse at midnight this Tuesday, September 30. Representing one of the most significant reversals of conservation protection in our time, this tragic event may be overshadowed in the media by the single most threatening economic crisis since the Great Depression.

We are also hearing that we may yet face a last-minute Senate Floor vote on an unspecified proposal by Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina this week, having to do with litigation and expedited OCS leasing.

As a Nation, our Founders long ago established the hallowed tradition of not unnecessarily trashing every part of our natural heritage, and Congress was able to extend this important tradition of preservation to our most sensitive coastal waters by maintaining the OCS moratorium throughout the past twenty-seven years.

During this period of struggle for our coasts, we have had a good run. We need to now rededicate ourselves to the health of our oceans and to the protection of our coastal environment as a matter of survival, and recommit our collective efforts in a new Congress and in each of our states to restoring what has been temporarily taken from us this year in the largest land-grab in U.S. history, while preparing to rebuild similar new protection for our coastal waters in a new Administration.

Our task will not be easy, but it has never been easy. The oil industry is funding Newt Gingrich to hold a big raucus celebration of their “energy independence victory” in Atlanta on Tuesday, but we will not be holding a wake for our coast. We know in our hearts that, in the words of the late David Brower, we are not yet so desperate that we must burn our cathedrals for firewood.

Greed may have temporarily triumphed in the short term through the generous distribution of petrodollars in Congress and the idiotic falsehoods and senseless fear spread by the likes of Fox News, but there is absolutely no other practical path ahead than to pursue an efficient transition to a new energy ethic to be constructively applied throughout the industrial world, beginning in an America that once again leads by positive example.

Attached are some suggested messaging points(HERE) for your consideration and use leading up to this week’s inevitable questions from reporters, and to the potential Senate vote on the DeMint legislation. The oil industry already appears to be planting numerous editorials in coastal states to the effect that residents need not worry, drilling rigs will not appear anytime soon, and these same industry PR efforts are sowing disinformation to the effect that individual states will be able to prevent offshore drilling if they don’t want it.

Thanking every single person who sent emails, wrote condolences, and who shed tears these past few days over just how inept and uncaring Congress could be at this time, thanking each and every single one of you who spent countless hours of volunteer time, some for three decades, to save the coast for our grandchildren, and most of all, reminding you, as if you needed it, that this is absolutely NOT over…

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 9, 2008

Saying the nation’s energy situation has dramatically changed in the past year, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today jumpstarted the development of a new oil and natural gas leasing program for the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.  The action could give the next administration a two-year head start in expanding energy production from federal offshore jurisdictions, including some areas where a congressional ban had prevented oil and gas development.

“When our current five-year program for Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing was launched in July 2007, oil was selling for $64 a barrel,” Kempthorne said.  “Today a barrel of oil costs more than $120, almost double the price a year ago. Clearly, today’s escalating energy prices and the widening gap between U.S. energy consumption and supply have changed the fundamental assumptions on which many of our decisions were based.”

“Areas that were considered too expensive to develop a year ago are no longer necessarily out of reach based on improvements to technology and safety,” Kempthorne noted.  “The American people and the President want action and this initiative can accelerate an offshore exploration and development program that can increase production from additional domestic energy resources.”

President Bush lifted the Executive Withdrawal on oil and gas leasing operations on the Outer Continental Shelf on July 14, calling on Congress to lift its ban that has been in place since 1982.  He also urged Congress to enact legislation that would allow states to have a say regarding operations off their shores and to share in the resulting revenues.

“The President believes coastal states should have a voice in how Outer Continental Shelf resources are developed off their shores while ensuring those environments are protected. Also, Congress should provide a way for the federal government and states to participate in revenue sharing from those new leases,” Kempthorne said.

Because of the current energy situation and the President’s action, Secretary Kempthorne has directed the Minerals Management Service to begin the initial steps for developing a new five-year program <http://www.mms.gov/5-year/#new> that accurately reflects the nation’s needs.  The multi-year process starts with a call for information <http://www.mms.gov/5-year/PDFs/E8-17708.pdf> from all parties on what a new five-year program should consider.  MMS is also requesting comment to ensure that all interests and concerns are considered regarding oil and gas leasing and exploration and development resulting from a new five-year program. The governors of all 50 states will be specifically asked for their comments, particularly on issues unique to each state.

“This initiative could provide a significant advantage for the incoming administration, offering options it would not otherwise have had until at least 2010,” Kempthorne said. “Today’s action would provide a 2-year head start for the next administration on developing a new five-year program.”

The current program runs from 2007-2012 and includes 21 lease sales in eight of the 26 Outer Continental Shelf planning areas in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and the Atlantic.  It does not include areas under a congressional ban, with the exception of Virginia.  The new program, depending on public comment, can consider any area although any leasing in a banned area would need congressional action.

The Outer Continental Shelf currently provides 27% of U.S. domestic oil production and 15% of domestic natural gas production — most of that from the Gulf of Mexico.  The areas under a congressional ban contain an additional 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in yet-to-be-discovered fields.

Those numbers are considered conservative estimates because little exploration has been conducted in most of those areas during the past quarter of a century because of the congressional ban.  Interior’s estimates are based on available data.  Estimates tend to increase dramatically as technology improves and exploration activities occur.

This initiative uses the process mandated by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments of 1978 which give the Secretary of the Interior authority to develop “out-of-cycle” leasing programs and requires various procedural steps, including several rounds of public comment and multiple environmental reviews.

Comments may be submitted on or before September 15, 2008 by using MMS’ Public Connect online commenting system or by mail.

5-Year Program Comments

The MMS must receive all comments and information by September 15, 2008.

Please submit your comments using only one of these formats, and include full names and addresses. Comments submitted by other means may not be considered. We will not consider anonymous comments, and we will make available for inspection in their entirety all comments submitted by organizations and businesses, or by individuals identifying themselves as representatives of organizations and businesses. Our practice is to make comments, including the names and home addresses of respondents, available for public review. An individual commenter may ask that we withhold from the public record, his or her name, home address, or both, and we will honor such a request to the extent allowable by law. If you submit comments and desire that we withhold such information, you must so state prominently at the beginning of your submission.

via the web: https://ocsconnect.mms.gov/pcs-public/do/ProjectDetailView?objectId=0b011f80802ab320

via e-mail: 5YearRFIComments@mms.gov

via mail: Mail comments and information on the program (e.g., size, timing and location of areas to be offered for lease) to:

Ms. Renee Orr, 5-Year Program Manager
Minerals Management Service (MS-4010)
381 Elden Street
Herndon, VA 20170

Environmental comments and information relevant to oil and gas development on the OCS should be sent to:

Mr. James F. Bennett, Chief, Branch of Environmental Assessment Minerals Management Service (MS-4042)
381 Elden Street
Herndon, VA 20170

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FELICITY BARRINGER, The New York Times, August 27, 2008

Santa Barbara County became a symbol of the national environmental movement’s passionate opposition to offshore oil drilling when an oil spill devastated its coastline in 1969. On Tuesday, it became a symbol of the changing national mood as its board of supervisors debated whether to welcome new wells along California’s shores.

The supervisors voted 3 to 2 on Tuesday to end the county’s opposition to offshore drilling, although the vote will have no practical impact on state or federal policies.

But the speed with which opinions have changed in Santa Barbara County as gasoline prices have climbed has been astonishing. The vote there reinforces, at the local level, a shift evident in national polls and in the delicate willingness of Democratic leaders like Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive presidential nominee, and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, to open the door to limited coastal drilling.

Three weeks ago, the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll showing that 51% of Californians now approve of offshore drilling, a 10-point increase in a single year. “I don’t think any of us expected to see the day when there’d be more than 50% support for oil drilling,” said Mark Baldassare, the institute’s research director.

Despite the liberal, environmentally conscious aura that has surrounded the wealthy coastal communities of Santa Barbara and Montecito, the county as a whole, which also includes the fast-growing, less-wealthy inland communities of Santa Ynez and Santa Maria, has been less easily pigeonholed politically.

“It’s a bipolar situation,” said Antonio Rossman, an environmental lawyer in San Francisco. “You’ve got some of the strongest environmentalists in the country, yet this is where Ronald Reagan had his ranch,” Mr. Rossman said, adding, “The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has always split as close as anyone can on issues of preservation versus development.”

The swing vote on the five-member board, Supervisor Brooks Firestone, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he was ending his opposition because offshore drilling was no longer a significant threat to the coastal environment.

“I did a lot of research that brought me to realize that 1969 can’t happen again,” Mr. Firestone said. He joined two supervisors who are longtime proponents of drilling in voting in favor of writing a letter asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, to rethink his support for the Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling.

Michael Chrisman, California’s secretary for resources, made it clear in a telephone interview that this was not going to happen. Asked about the changes in the national and local moods, Mr. Chrisman said: “It’s obvious what’s going on. The presidential election’s going on.”

He said the issue was driven by the “high price of gasoline and need of country to become more energy independent.”

“It’s a healthy debate,” he added. “But from our perspective, our position hasn’t changed. The governor has been very clear in his opposition to increased drilling off the coast of California.” More than 80 people signed up to speak at the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, and Mr. Firestone said the testimony was often emotional.

“People want wind power, solar power, less dependence on foreign oil,” he said. “Fair enough. We all want that.” But he said he expected economic pressure to find new oil supplies to reach a breaking point eventually and force widespread leasing of tracts off the coast. “Better to do it gradually, safely and intelligently,” he said, “than wait for the inevitable conclusion.”

Tupper Hall, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said in a telephone interview that the debate in Santa Barbara was emblematic of a national mood swing prompted in part by a desire to be less dependent on Middle Eastern oil. “This national — and now local — dialogue that is now taking place we believe is very healthy,” Mr. Hall said. “It is an acknowledgment, I believe, that the public understands that supply really does matter.”

Finding safe and appropriate ways to increase the supply, he added, is “one of the ways to address instability, volatility in the global markets.”

But Warner Chabot, a vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, a national environmental group, said offshore drilling would not decrease oil prices.

“Exposing coastal areas and beaches to oil drills and environmental degradation for a few weeks’ supply isn’t a national energy policy,” Mr. Chabot said.

President Bush put the issue at the center of the national debate in June when he proposed rescinding an executive order against offshore drilling originally imposed by his father. He ended that moratorium in July and called on Congress to lift the ban it has imposed for 27 years.

Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was in Santa Barbara just weeks earlier to outline his energy policy — one that included a new willingness to encourage drilling on the outer continental shelf.

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MendoCoastCurent, August 12, 2008

Last Friday the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its latest denial for a rehearing on the Mendocino Wave Energy project on the Northern California coast.

The denied Petitioners include Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics (FISH) with Attorney Elizabeth Mitchell, Mendocino County, Fort Bragg, Lincoln County in Oregon and others representing concerned citizens, local city/county governments as well as local fishermen wishing to be party to wave energy development on the Mendocino coast.

In this power showdown, where federal energy policymakers are swiftly moving towards the deployment, testing and exploration of wave energy generating devices on the Mendocino coast, FERC has made it clear that they do not wish to have local and community involvement or participation, period.

And the implications of this denial are far reaching as it appears this Mendocino coast wave energy development project shall be ‘ground zero’ as the first U.S. wave energy project to explore wave energy policymaking, development, deployment and generation (the Makah Bay project is located off Native American lands in the state of Washington).

Before reading on, please take a look at FERC Denial Order: HERE The language of the Order is indecipherable to a layperson. One wonders what this order actually states.

From a more general view, the Petitioners’ have sought to become full-fledged participants in matters related to wave energy projects licensing and development on the Mendocino coast. The local groups, local governments and concerned citizenry of Fort Bragg are also calling for appropriate environmental studies/testing before deployment.

The Mendocino coast continues to inspire locals as well as visitors from around the world with its dramatic beauty, its richness in bounty, its rugged, wildness…and its awesome power. Mendocino locals wish to share this reverence and general knowledge, their oceanic and micro-climate experience…and contribute their knowledge toward a successful and environmentally-benign test of today’s nascent wave energy technology.

It is MendoCoastCurrent’s view, and possibly not a popular one, that appropriate and environmentally-benign wave energy technologies may be developed and successfully implemented. There are literally hundreds of different wave devices available today. Straight out the shoot, many are inappropriate for the Mendocino coast due to sea depth and upswell, some devices are simply pipedreams while others may be suitable — meaning, a device that may sustainably work within the harsh ocean environment, not diminish the sea flora/fauna, sea creatures or man and beneficial in scaling electrical energy output.

Yet in this FERC Denial it’s clear that FERC does not seek the necessary dialog and community ownership that will enable this project’s success.

Additionally, FERC is in the process of developing wave energy ‘conditioned licenses’ to streamline development and FERC has chosen to not incorporate rulemaking (allowing public input) in developing their licensing policies. An associate federal agency, the Mineral Management Service (MMS) that rules beyond the FERC three-mile limit to 200 miles out to sea (the outer continental shelf) is now in ‘rulemaking’ process for hydrokinetic projects. Thus, MMS is asking for comments to be submitted by September 8, 2008…see article here with MMS links to share your comments.

 

MendoCoastCurrent awaits local responses, legal analyses and federal energy policymakers’ next steps.

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MADDALENA JACKSON with MendoCoastCurrent edit, The Sacramento Bee, August 11, 2008

Oil companies, some politicians and commuters paying $4 for a gallon of gas might look at California’s coast and think of crude oil pooled below the sea floor.

California’s North Coast, however, holds promise of another energy bounty.

In less time than it would take to fire up new offshore oil drills, waters off our coast could host undulating buoys driven by waves, producing abundant electricity for a power-thirsty state.

The Electric Power Research Institute estimates enough wave power can be extracted from coastal waters to account for about 15% of California’s electricity production.

Offshore wave technology is promising, but it’s untried. They also raise concerns about potential damage to the coast’s prized vistas and fish industry.

One proposal that’s progressing is to draw electricity from waves off the Mendocino coast already has generated problems for developers, government agencies and coastal residents.

Moreover, the potential for waves depends on someone building transmission lines to connect offshore power to the state’s grid.

Northern California’s biggest utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., may be that someone.

Out at sea, the ocean’s surface ripples rhythmically, and the up-and-down motion can be harnessed to produce electrical energy, via bobbing buoys, jointed snakes and undulating tubes.

PG&E plans to capture some of that potential. It has preliminary permits for two projects – one off Fort Bragg in Mendocino County and one off Eureka.

The Fort Bragg project, expected to yield 40 megawatts of electricity, would be “an undersea power plug,” said PG&E project manager Bill Toman. It “would provide about 20% of electricity consumption of Mendocino County.”

PG&E would build the expensive transmission lines. The utility would select three or four developers to test their power generators.

Results will lead to “a decision about whether we would build our own wave energy farm,” he said.

Mendocino coast residents are examining PG&E’s plans with cautious concern.

“Wave energy sounds like a good idea, as long as it doesn’t harm the environment,” said Bruce Lewis, a nature photographer and volunteer light-keeper at the Point Cabrillo Light Station. “Using the power of the waves seems like a better way of generating power than building oil platforms off the coast.”

Others are wary. “When you first hear about it, you think, ‘That’s a great idea!’ ” said Jim Martin, director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

He’s concerned wave power may interfere with fisheries. He wonders if electrical signatures from the devices also might disturb fish.

His biggest complaint right now, however, is that local fishermen and residents have had no say in the planning.

Martin is also associated with Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics, or FISH. With local lawyer Elizabeth Mitchell, FISH is battling for a role in the planning.

A federal deadline has passed for gaining an official voice in the legal planning for the wave projects, alongside PG&E and federal energy regulators.

Mitchell has filed a request for a belated entree with the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission. She argues that an isolated community, with limited high-speed Internet service, and few residents who even know what FERC is, could not have met the deadline.

Mitchell said she’s concerned that permits have been granted without environmental analysis or even identified technology. “We are guinea pigs for a worldwide science experiment without any rational planning.”

PG&E’s permit comes from FERC. But there is a question over wave power jurisdiction. The federal Minerals Management Service has jurisdiction from three to 200 miles offshore, and by years end hopes to have rules in place for alternative energy leases, said spokesman John Romero.

FERC, however, oversees onshore hydropower applications and has claimed jurisdiction for wave technology up to 12 miles offshore, based on its reading of legal documents.

“It’s a problem for anyone in charge of proposing a project,” PG&E’s Toman said. “At some point, it will hold things up.”

A delay would be welcome, Martin said. “A huge reason people come up here is to look at the ocean, and to reconnect with nature.”

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Platts/McGraw-Hill, August 2008

Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) is looking to generate power from Scottish waters as well. Nasdaq-listed OPT reported July 28 that it had signed a berth agreement with the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) in Orkney, Scotland. OPT can, under the berth agreement, deploy and operate its unit as well as hook up to EMEC’s dedicated 2-MW subsea cable connected to the Scottish grid and will sell power to the grid up to the unit’s 2-MW capacity limit, using the EMEC berth for other deployments.

Across the Atlantic, wave energy development in the United States, another country looking to assume market leadership, suffered a temporary setback in late June 2008 when Finavera Renewables scuttled plans for a wave energy project off the Oregon coast to focus on developing the technology needed for other projects.

Finavera let preliminary permits granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expire by not filing required reports. FERC cancelled Finavera’s preliminary permit on June 26 for the proposed 100-MW Coos Country project, saying the company had failed to file six-month progress reports on studies that the company was required to perform for the project to move forward. The preliminary permit allowed for further site assessment and so-called micro siting to determine the best location for the proposed wave park, and allowed studies on such topics as oceanographic conditions, marine mammal resources, shoreline conditions, and public safety. “We had to focus some of our resources on a couple [of] other high priority projects,” said Myke Clark, vice president of corporate development for Finavera.

These include a planned 2-MW wave energy initiative at Makah Bay, California, which has already secured a long-term power purchase contract in December 2007 with California utility Pacific Gas & Electric – the first commercial PPA for a wave project in North America. In developing the new technology, engineers are tackling such challenges as the intermittency of waves and how to produce electricity from new types of equipment cheaply enough to make it profitable, he said. “We’re definitely in an intensive phase right now in terms of this technology,” Clark said, adding that the company is cancelling the project because “we need to focus a bit more on the technology development.”

The marine energy industry in America faces policy as well as technology obstacles.

As FERC promotes development of hydrokinetic energy and companies seize opportunities, the agency has issued preliminary permits that allow environmental assessments and other studies to be performed – only to have its regulatory authority questioned by other federal agencies.

The US Department of the Interior in April 2008 asserted that FERC lacked the authority to issue leases for hydrokinetic projects on the Outer Continental Shelf and called on FERC to rehear its decisions to issue two preliminary permits for wave electricity projects being considered off the coast of California.

FERC issued a license to Finavera in December 2007 for a 1-MW wave energy project in Clallam County, Washington, but several parties sought rehearing of the decision, claiming FERC violated the Clean Water Act by issuing a license before the state ecology department had issued a water quality certificate and other state permits and authorizations. In a March 20 order FERC said the rehearing requests are moot since the state issued the necessary permits to Finavera in February 2008. FERC said that its initial order was a conditional license that did not authorize construction or installation of facilities and “expressly stated that no such authority would be granted until Finavera obtained all necessary authorizations.”

The US wave energy industry received a boost in late July 2008, though, when the US Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that regulates offshore energy development, said it intends to issue leases for thirteen alternative energy research projects in the federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf, including wave-energy projects off the California coast.

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GreenCarCongress.com, July 26, 2008

The US Minerals Management Service (MMS) is proceeding with the consultation and analyses necessary to move toward the issuance of limited leases under its interim policy for authorizing alternative energy data collection and technology testing activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

MMS announced its interim policy in November 2007 to jumpstart basic information gathering efforts relating to development of OCS alternative energy resources such as wind, waves, and ocean currents as authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct). The limited leases envisioned under the interim policy will be for a term of five years and will not convey any right or priority for commercial development.

Following the initial announcement, MMS received more than 40 nominations of areas proposed for limited leasing off the west and east coasts. In April MMS identified a subset of 16 proposed lease areas for priority consideration and provided public notice of those areas for the purpose of determining competitive interest as required by EPAct and for receiving relevant environmental or other information. The comment period on the April notice closed on June 30. A brief description of the information received and MMS’s decisions concerning the 16 proposed lease areas follows.

  • New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia—the 10 lease areas (six off NJ, one off DE, and three off GA) proposed for site assessment activities relating to wind resources drew no competing nominations and no significant comment. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for these sites.
  • Florida—three of the four lease areas off the southeast coast proposed for site assessment or technology testing activities relating to ocean current resources received competing nominations, and comments concerning the areas were favorable. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for the one site that did not receive competing nominations. Due to timing constraints inherent in the interim policy, as well as bureau budget and staffing considerations, MMS has decided not to proceed with a competitive auction for the other areas. Instead, the competing nominators have been asked to collaborate in order to enable interested parties to jointly benefit in information gathering under leases issued noncompetitively.
  • California—neither of the two areas off Northern California (Humboldt and Mendocino Counties) proposed for site assessment and technology testing relating to wave resources drew new competing nominations. However, based on two original overlapping nominations in the Humboldt area from the initial Call for Nominations in Nov. 2007, MMS has determined that there is competitive interest in that proposed lease area. MMS also received numerous comments from local stakeholders concerned about potential use conflicts and environmental issues in both areas. For the Mendocino area, MMS has decided to proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process, working with the applicant and local stakeholders to refine the area and scope of proposed activities and to address other local concerns. For the Humboldt area, MMS has decided not to hold a competitive auction and to ask the competing nominators to collaborate. If they agree to collaborate, MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process as in the Mendocino area.

The process for issuing limited leases under the interim policy will entail thorough environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws, as well as close consultation with federal, state, and local government agencies as required by EPAct.

The limited leases that will be issued under the interim policy will enable the lessees to collect information that will be useful for potential commercial projects in the future under an MMS regulatory program that is in development.

MMS published a proposed OCS alternative energy rulemaking on July 9, 2008. When final, this rule will govern all future commercial OCS alternative energy activities and will apply to any future commercial development in the areas leased under the interim policy. Limited leaseholders wishing to conduct commercial activities will need separate authorization under the final rule that is adopted.

The MMS interim policy is ongoing pending the adoption of a final rule governing OCS alternative energy activity. Interested parties may continue to submit nominations, and MMS may act on other nominations that already have been received or are received in the future.

The specific companies involved with the proposed projects are listed below:

  • Delaware: Bluewater Wind Delaware LLC (wind resources data collection)
  • New Jersey: Bluewater Wind New Jersey Energy LLC (3 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection). Fisherman’s Energy of New Jersey (wind resources data collection). Winergy Power LLC (2 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection)
  • Georgia: Southern Company (3 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection)
  • Florida: Aquantis LLC/Aquantis Development Co. Inc. (ocean current data collection and technology testing)
  • California: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (wave resources data collection, offshore Mendocino)

There is one proposed lease area off California and three off Florida where there is overlapping interest. For those areas, MMS is investigating whether the companies are interested in collaborating on resource data collection activities. Those companies are:

  • California: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Marine Sciences (wave resources data collection offshore Humboldt)
  • Florida: Proposed lease area 1: Oceana Energy Co and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection). Proposed lease area 2: Marine Sciences and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection). Proposed lease area 4: Florida Power & Light Co and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection).

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RACHEL THOMSON, The Daily World, August 5, 2008

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a preliminary permit to grant the Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co. the exclusive right to conduct a feasibility study for generating power from wind and wave energy on a 28-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast from Ocean Shores to Grayland over the next three years. The permit, issued August 1, 2008, does not authorize any construction.

The project foresees as many as 90 260-foot tall steel wind turbines, as well as wave energy converters to convert ocean waves and wind into a renewable source of energy and could supply enough energy to power the entire Olympic Peninsula and make Grays Harbor one of the largest producers of renewable energy in the world, according to Burton Hamner, president of Hydrovolts, Inc.—the creator of the Grays Harbor Energy Co. Hamner also said the project has the potential to create numerous jobs within the county because the renewable energy equipment would be manufactured locally.

“The ocean off of Washington has the potential to provide all the electricity needed for the western half of the state by 2025,” Hamner said. “We are leading the investigation how to make this a reality and encourage everyone interested in locally-generated clean power to learn more about the possibilities.”

The feasibility study will seek to find out if the turbines would affect gray whale migration patterns and flight patterns of birds, according to Hamner. Hamner said the study will also examine whether or not the locations of the turbines could limit the areas in which fisherman can fish.

Hamner said a cost for completing the project has not been determined, but the feasibility study could cost upward of $500,000. Funding would come from state and federal grants as well as from the Bonneville Power Administration, he said.

Even after the feasibility study is completed, it would take about four years to begin construction, Hamner said.

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JOHN DRISCOLL, The Times-Standard, July 24, 2008

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has cleared another hurdle toward developing wave energy projects off the Humboldt and Mendocino county coasts.

Recently the U.S. Minerals Management Service announced that it would go forward with analyzing limited leases for alternative energy projects on the outer continental shelf. It follows a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to grant preliminary permits to PG&E for the project, which envisions eight to 200 wave energy devices somewhere from two to 10 miles offshore.

FERC oversees such projects within three miles of the coast, while the Minerals Management Service has jurisdiction beyond that.

The process for issuing limited leases under an interim policy formed in November 2007 will entail “thorough environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws, as well as close consultation with federal, state and local government agencies,” the service said in a press release.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council wrote to the Minerals Management Service in June expressing concern that multiple wave test projects could have cumulative effects on sea life and the commercial fishing fleet. The potential effects should be evaluated at an “ecosystem scale” before projects are installed, the letter reads.

The Mineral Management Service leases will allow PG&E to collect information for potential commercial projects in the future.

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EnergyCurrent.com, July 30, 2008

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne has started the development of a new oil and natural gas leasing program for the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The action could give the next administration a head start in expanding energy production from federal offshore jurisdictions, including some areas where a congressional moratorium has restricted oil and gas development.

Reacting to current energy prices and president George W. Bush’s lifting of the presidential ban on offshore drilling, Secretary Kempthorne has directed the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) to begin the initial steps for developing a new five year program. The multi-year process starts with a call for information from all parties on what a new five year program should consider.

MMS is also requesting comment to ensure that all interests and concerns are considered regarding oil and gas leasing and exploration and development resulting from a new five year program. The governors of all 50 states will be specifically asked for their comments, particularly on issues unique to each state.

The current program runs from 2007-2012 and includes 21 lease sales in eight of the 26 Outer Continental Shelf planning areas in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and the Atlantic. It does not include areas under a congressional ban, with the exception of Virginia. The new program, depending on public comment, can consider any area although any leasing in a banned area would need congressional action. If approved the new program would begin in 2010 and end in 2015.

Kempthorne said, “Today a barrel of oil costs more than $120, almost double the price a year ago. Clearly, today’s escalating energy prices and the widening gap between U.S. energy consumption and supply have changed the fundamental assumptions on which many of our decisions were based.”

“The American people and the President want action and this initiative can accelerate an offshore exploration and development program that can increase production from additional domestic energy resources.”

“This initiative could provide a significant advantage for the incoming administration, offering options it would not otherwise have had until at least 2010,” Kempthorne added.

“Today’s action would provide a two year head start for the next administration on developing a new five-year program.”

The Outer Continental Shelf currently provides 27% of U.S. domestic oil production and 15% of domestic natural gas production, the majority of this from the Gulf of Mexico. MMS believes that the areas under a congressional ban contain an additional 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 Tcf of natural gas in yet-to-be-discovered fields.

MMS considers the numbers conservative estimates because little exploration has been conducted in most of those areas during the past 25 years because of the congressional ban. The estimates could increase with new technology and exploration techniques.

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DAVID R. BAKER, The San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 2008

The U.S. Interior Department ratcheted up the pressure on Congress Wednesday to open more of the country’s coastline to offshore oil drilling, a move petroleum companies have sought for decades.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said his department will lay the groundwork for selling undersea oil-drilling leases on the outer continental shelf, including areas now protected by a congressional ban. Republicans are pushing hard to end the moratorium, which was imposed in 1982 and covers most of the East and West coasts.

The Interior Department has no authority to lift the ban. But if Congress votes to open the coasts to drilling, the department could hit the ground running, selling leases as early as 2011. Exploratory drilling would probably begin a few years after that.

“Americans continue to struggle with high gas prices, and it’s important that we do more to develop domestic sources of energy,” Kempthorne said.

As a first step, the Interior Department will solicit comments from oil companies, state governors, environmental groups and others as to which specific stretches of seafloor should be leased for drilling. The department will consider areas that are already open – such as the Gulf of Mexico – as well as those that aren’t.

The move pleased oil industry groups as well as politicians who want more offshore oil production.

“We’ve got to get off foreign oil. We’ve got to use our own domestic production,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona (Riverside County), who introduced legislation this month to lift the moratorium. He said royalties from oil pumped off the California coast could be a boon to state government.

“I think it’s a better solution than raising taxes,” Calvert said. “Why don’t we take advantage of the resources we know we have and help address the structural deficit problem in California?”

But leading congressional Democrats remain adamantly opposed to lifting the ban. They note that most of the estimated oil reserves on the outer continental shelf – about 79% – lie in areas that are already open to drilling.

“This is nothing more than a political stunt to divert attention from the high gas prices that have resulted from having two oil men in the White House,” California Sen. Barbara Boxer said Wednesday.

Environmental groups also panned the Interior Department plan. Like the congressional Democrats, they want the nation to invest more heavily in alternative energy sources and start weaning itself off oil.

“There’s simply no way, with 2% of the world’s oil reserves, that you can solve our problems by drilling” on the outer continental shelf, said Jim Presswood, an energy issues advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Interior Department officials said Wednesday that they also want to increase the development of alternative energy sources offshore. For two years, the department has studied leasing portions of the outer continental shelf to companies that want to build offshore windmills or install buoys that generate electricity as they bob up and down on the waves.

PG&E has proposed two such wave energy projects off the coasts of Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

The Interior Department’s alternative energy effort will dovetail with the new push on offshore oil drilling, Kempthorne said.

“Alternative energy development and traditional energy development are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Although the department will ask for comments from governors, that doesn’t mean the governors would be able to veto offshore drilling in federal waters near their states. States control the waters within 3 miles of shore, but can’t directly control development farther out.

Kempthorne and other Interior Department officials emphasized on Wednesday their desire to work with the governors. But they said Congress would have to determine how much authority to give the states should legislators lift the drilling moratorium.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opposes offshore drilling. This week, the Republican governor touted an agreement with his counterparts in Oregon and Washington to work together to protect the coastal environment, an agreement that includes rejecting offshore oil drilling.

“The governor understands that people are frustrated with the soaring price of gas, but in California, we know offshore drilling is not the answer,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Lisa Page.

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MendoCoastCurrent, July 9, 2008

ACT NOW! – ‘MMS Rulemaking’ Public Review & Comments Accepted Thru September 8, 2008

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that will regulate alternative energy production activities and alternate uses of existing facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The proposed rule is accompanied by a draft environmental assessment analyzing the potential environmental effects of the rulemaking in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

MMS conducting ‘rulemaking’ to establish a program to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way (ROW) for orderly, safe, and environmentally responsible alternative energy project activities and alternate uses of existing facilities on the OCS. The rule will also establish methods for sharing revenues generated by this program with nearby coastal States.

“This proposed rule would establish formally the framework for developing wind, wave, ocean current, solar and other renewable energy sources on America’s Outer Continental Shelf,” Assistant Secretary Stephen C. Allred said. “With this important step we can add to our ability to reduce our reliance on foreign energy by making the best use of our own domestic resources in a safe and environmentally sensitive way.”

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized MMS to establish the OCS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use (AEAU) Program. Alternative energy includes, but is not limited to wind, wave, solar, ocean current and generation of hydrogen. Alternate uses of existing facilities may include aquaculture, research, education, recreation or support for offshore operations and facilities.

The process for completing the rulemaking began after the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was issued in December of 2005. The Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was issued in November of 2007. This was followed by the release of the Record of Decision for the Final PEIS in January of 2008. The next step in the process, after the 60-day comment period on today’s proposed rule ends, will be the release of the Final Rule and final environmental assessment. The Final Rule is expected to be complete by December 2008.

Publisher’s Note: The MMS is seeking your comments on rulemaking for alternative energy projects…here’s their description: “The MMS is proposing regulations that would establish a program to authorize and manage alternative energy project activities on the OCS, as well as certain previously unauthorized activities that involve the alternate use of existing facilities located on the OCS; and would establish the methods for sharing revenues generated by this program with nearby coastal states”

Wish to Comment?

The proposed rule and draft environmental assessment invite public comments from interested parties by one of two methods:

1. Federal eRulemaking Portal. Under the tab “More Search Options,” click Advanced Docket Search, then select “Minerals Management Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click “submit.” In the Docket ID column, select MMS-2008-OEMM-0012 (you may need to go to the page 2 to locate) for submitting your public comments and viewing supporting/related materials available for this rulemaking.

2. Mailing your comments to the following address:

Minerals Management Service
Offshore Energy and Minerals Management
Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Team
381 Elden Street Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817

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MendoCoastCurrent, July 8, 2008

Act Now! Related ‘MMS Rulemaking’ Public Review & Comments Accepted Thru September 8, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC — The Minerals Management Service (MMS) announced today that it is proceeding with the consultation and analyses necessary to move toward the issuance of limited leases under its interim policy for authorizing alternative energy data collection and technology testing activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

“This is another important step in the advancement in the OCS Alternative Energy Program,” said MMS Director Randall Luthi. “I am excited about our progress and am looking forward to working with the states and communities to move forward with these proposed activities.”

MMS announced its interim policy in November 2007 to jumpstart basic information gathering efforts relating to development of OCS alternative energy resources such as wind, waves, and ocean currents as authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct). The limited leases envisioned under the interim policy will be for a term of five years and will not convey any right or priority for commercial development.

Following the initial announcement, MMS received more than 40 nominations of areas proposed for limited leasing off the west and east coasts. In April MMS identified a subset of 16 proposed lease areas for priority consideration and provided public notice of those areas for the purpose of determining competitive interest as required by EPAct and for receiving relevant environmental or other information. The comment period on the April notice closed on June 30. A brief description of the information received and MMS’s decisions concerning the 16 proposed lease areas follows.

New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia—the 10 lease areas (six off NJ, one off DE, and three off GA) proposed for site assessment activities relating to wind resources drew no competing nominations and no significant comment. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for these sites.

Florida—three of the four lease areas off the southeast coast proposed for site assessment or technology testing activities relating to ocean current resources received competing nominations, and comments concerning the areas were favorable. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for the one site that did not receive competing nominations. Due to timing constraints inherent in the interim policy, as well as bureau budget and staffing considerations, MMS has decided not to proceed with a competitive auction for the other areas. Instead, the competing nominators have been asked to collaborate in order to enable interested parties to jointly benefit in information gathering under leases issued noncompetitively.

California—neither of the two areas off Northern California (Humboldt and Mendocino Counties) proposed for site assessment and technology testing relating to wave resources drew new competing nominations. However, based on two original overlapping nominations in the Humboldt area from the initial Call for Nominations in Nov. 2007, MMS has determined that there is competitive interest in that proposed lease area. MMS also received numerous comments from local stakeholders concerned about potential use conflicts and environmental issues in both areas. For the Mendocino area, MMS has decided to proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process, working with the applicant and local stakeholders to refine the area and scope of proposed activities and to address other local concerns. For the Humboldt area, MMS has decided not to hold a competitive auction and to ask the competing nominators to collaborate. If they agree to collaborate, MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process as in the Mendocino area.

The process for issuing limited leases under the interim policy will entail thorough environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws, as well as close consultation with federal, state, and local government agencies as required by EPAct.

The limited leases that will be issued under the interim policy will enable the lessees to collect information that will be useful for potential commercial projects in the future under an MMS regulatory program that is in development.

MMS published a proposed OCS alternative energy rulemaking on July 9, 2008. When final, this rule will govern all future commercial OCS alternative energy activities and will apply to any future commercial development in the areas leased under the interim policy. Limited leaseholders wishing to conduct commercial activities will need separate authorization under the final rule that is adopted.

The MMS interim policy is ongoing pending the adoption of a final rule governing OCS alternative energy activity. Interested parties may continue to submit nominations, and MMS may act on other nominations that already have been received or are received in the future.

Publisher’s Note: The MMS is seeking your comments on rulemaking for alternative energy projects…here’s their description: “The MMS is proposing regulations that would establish a program to authorize and manage alternative energy project activities on the OCS, as well as certain previously unauthorized activities that involve the alternate use of existing facilities located on the OCS; and would establish the methods for sharing revenues generated by this program with nearby coastal states”

Wish to Comment?

The proposed rule and draft environmental assessment invite public comments from interested parties by one of two methods:

1. Federal eRulemaking Portal. Under the tab “More Search Options,” click Advanced Docket Search, then select “Minerals Management Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click “submit.” In the Docket ID column, select MMS-2008-OEMM-0012 (you may need to go to the page 2 to locate) for submitting your public comments and viewing supporting/related materials available for this rulemaking.

2. Mailing your comments to the following address:

Minerals Management Service
Offshore Energy and Minerals Management
Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Team
381 Elden Street
Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817

Read Full Post »