RENEWABLE ENERGY:

Interior to review proposal to tap Fla. ocean currents

The Interior Department today said it is beginning an environmental review for a first-ever leasing proposal to turn ocean currents off Florida's Atlantic coast into renewable baseload electricity.

Florida Atlantic University has applied to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement for a lease to deploy an experimental demonstration device about 17 miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.

"This is the first lease application BOEMRE has received to test ocean current equipment on the U.S. outer continental shelf," said agency Director Michael Bromwich in a statement.

The Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center, which is operated by FAU, is exploring the potential for harnessing the powerful Gulf Stream, an intense, warm ocean current that flows northward along the Florida coast before turning eastward off North Carolina and heading toward Europe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The project seeks to develop baseload renewable power, which, unlike wind and solar power, would be generated around the clock, according to the center. The project would also help diversify the area's renewable energy portfolio, it said.

The proposed lease would allow the center to deploy a single-anchor mooring and buoy similar to a naval weather buoy to test equipment that could tap the ocean's current and generate electricity on the proposed leasehold. The devices to be deployed would be limited to 100 kilowatts of capacity and 23-foot-diameter rotors, according to the application with federal regulators.

As part of its review, Interior will consider whether installing the devices and operating a deployment vessel in the area could affect ocean sediment, marine mammals, sea turtles, pelagic fishes and existing human uses. The agency will develop an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act.

If approved, the university's limited lease would last five years but would not authorize the commercial production or transmission of energy.

Under an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, BOEMRE issues leases and grants for both offshore wind and hydro-kinetic projects. BOEMRE permits the construction and operation of offshore wind farms, but FERC permits the development of hydrokinetic facilities.

A November 2007 call for renewable energy research proposals in U.S. waters drew more than 40 nominations off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, BOEMRE said. The agency identified 16 proposed lease areas for priority consideration after evaluating their technical complexity, timing needs and competing uses of the ocean, as well as relevant state-supported renewable energy activities and initiatives.

Of those 16 areas, BOEMRE chose four areas off the Florida coast as priority areas for testing ocean current technology and collecting resource data.

The public is asked to recommend potential mitigation steps for marine and socioeconomic impacts that could result from the testing of new technologies in the leasing area.

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