Ocean 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 percent 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 Department 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 just last week said it inked a deal to develop wave power projects off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.