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Posts Tagged ‘US Geological Survey’

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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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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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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