U.S. Government Encourages Renewables on Outer Continental Shelf

WASHINGTON, DC, January 2, 2006 (ENS) - Development of wind, wave, current and solar power projects on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf is now being structured by the federal government agency with oversight of oil and gas development.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS), part of the Department of the Interior, was empowered by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to assume authority for renewable energy projects, such as wave, wind or solar power on offshore lands.

The agency is seeking public comment on its proposal to permit development of renewables on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), the submerged lands seaward of coastal statesí waters.

There is as much wind power potential - 900,000 megawatts - off U.S. coasts as the current capacity of all power plants in the United States combined, according to a report issued last fall by the U.S. Department of Energy, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and General Electric entitled, ďA Framework for Offshore Wind Energy Development in the United States.Ē


While no offshore wind farms exist in the United States, GE Wind Energy turbines are part of an offshore wind project off the coast of Ireland. (Photo courtesy DOE)
The greatest wind power potential is located offshore of the highly populated urban coastal areas of the Northeast, the report found, and it recognizes the roles of Cape Wind and the Long Island offshore wind project in creating the momentum to develop offshore wind power in the United States.

Under the Energy Policy Act, MMS became the lead federal agency governing the Cape Wind project, the first large offshore wind farm in the United States, which is still in the permitting stage. Cape Wind Associates is seeking approval to install 130 wind turbines in a grid that would occupy 24 square miles of Nantucket Sound, rising 420 feet above the sea surface.

Some environmental and clean energy groups support the Cape Wind project, while other environmental groups, fishing vessel operators, and some Cape Cod property owners oppose it.

In December, another stumbling block arose in the path of the Cape Wind project. An amendment to a Coast Guard budget bill introduced by Alaska Congressman Don Young, a Republican, would bar any new offshore wind facilities within 1.5 nautical miles of a shipping lane or a ferry route. The budget bill is sitting in a House-Senate conference committee, but if approved as amended, it would kill the Cape Wind project.

"Offshore renewable energy technologies are still in their infancy," said MMS Acting Director Walter Cruickshank in a Federal Register notice posted December 30, 2005 requesting public comment on the agency's new OCS Renewable Energy Program.

Because use of these submerged lands for renewable power generation is so new, Cruickshank is encouraging commenters to address issues such as the precise criteria MMS should consider in deciding whether or not to approve a project - balancing environmental considerations, for instance, with energy needs.

If two competing uses for the same site arise - such as a wind power project developer who wants to use the same site as a wave power developer - the public is asked to outline what criteria MMS should consider in deciding which of the competitors should get access to the site.

"Environmental management systems and review will be critical components of any activity in the new program," Cruickshank said, indicating that the environmental management systems will rely on an adaptive management strategy that gathers and uses information, including monitoring and evaluation of activities and their environmental consequences.

Environmental management systems must address all phases of planning and development, on-going operations, and removal of facilities associated with the new program, he said.

The renewable energy OCS program will require compliance with all existing U.S. environmental laws and regulations. In addition to monitoring and enforcing compliance, Cruickshank says the MMS promotes using the best available and safest technology.

"Contingency planning for technology failure, human factors, or extreme offshore events will be required," he said.


This drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico uses solar photovoltaic modules for powering navigational aids such as fog horns and lighting. This type of application, now commonplace around the world, could be a stepping stone to larger solar projects. (Photo courtesy Shell Solar Industries)
MMS intends to involve stakeholders throughout the program and regulation development process. "We will coordinate with and consult state governors, local government executives, and other federal agencies concerning activities that may affect them. MMS is interested in developing processes that are clear to all stakeholders, Cruickshank said.

The agency is interested in comments on types and levels of environmental information that should be required for a project, what types of impacts are of concern, and effective approaches for mitigating impacts.

How should environmental management systems be monitored, asks the agency - by the applicant, the MMS or by an independent third party? What should be the MMS roles versus the roles of industry for ensuring appropriate oversight and governance?

The objectives of the new program are to provide access to the Outer Continental Shelf for renewable energy projects in a way that balances competing and complementary uses of offshore acreage; takes into account the evolving nature of the energy industry; and provides a fair return to the United States for access to the OCS.

The MMS' renewable energy program does not apply to any area on the Outer Continental Shelf within the exterior boundaries of any unit of the National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System, or National Marine Sanctuary System, or any National Monument. Nor does it permit granting of a lease, easement, or right-of-way in an area in which oil and gas development is prohibited by a moratorium.

MMS is required to issue regulations for carrying out its new authority by mid-May 2006. The Act provides that the coastal states will share in 27 percent of the revenues generated from alternative energy activities within the area extending three nautical miles seaward of a state's submerged lands.

Cruickshank says that MMS will establish, by mid-February 2006, a formula for sharing this revenue among coastal states within 15 miles of a renewable energy project.

To find out more, visit the new MMS website on renewable energy and alternate uses of existing oil and gas platforms at: http://www.mms.gov/offshore/RenewableEnergy/RenewableEnergyMain.htm

People can comment in three ways:

The 60 day comment period on this proposal ends February 28, 2006.