The latest drafts of energy and climate legislation under consideration in the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week would direct federal agencies to conduct marine spatial planning study ahead of offshore wind and wave energy development.
The new language calls on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Interior Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- in conjunction with coastal states and nongovernmental organizations -- to conduct a six-month study to identify steps necessary to plan for the siting of offshore renewable energy facilities, such as wind and wave turbines or transmission lines.
It would also recommend a course of action to develop the spatial plans for siting the facilities and determine the resources needed to carry out the planning while protecting coastal and marine ecosystems and without competing with the ocean's other uses.
Environmentalists have pushed for the study, which would also assess existing data pools to identify gaps in knowledge and determine whether existing data adequately support marine spatial planning.
"Basically, President Obama has called on Congress to double renewable energy [generation] in three years, and a large portion will likely come from harnessing wind and wave energy offshore," said Melissa Waage, oceans campaign manager at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "At the same time, the oceans are increasingly under industrial pressure from fishing, shipping and energy development. ... Marine spatial planning allows us to move forward to develop renewable energy offshore without harming" the ocean's ecosystem and other functions.
After the public is given time to comment on the study's findings, the Council on Environmental Quality would review the recommendations and decide whether to implement the plan or formulate an alternative approach.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) had pushed to include the provision in the sweeping energy and climate legislation. "New Jersey has the potential to produce a significant amount of renewable energy from offshore wind," Pallone said in a statement. "For coastal districts like mine, it is important that we develop renewable offshore energy in a way that is environmentally responsible."
But the wind, wave, ocean current and tidal current industries, which have been targeted in the legislation, remain wary of the language in the chairman's mark unveiled yesterday by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
"We're certainly open to the idea of marine spatial planning," said Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy at the American Wind Energy Association. "I guess it's a question of implementation. It's not necessarily clear how everything will work together."
One thing AWEA is concerned about, Jodziewicz said, is how the legislation would affect the wind industry's numerous projects that are already in various stages of development. "Projects that are already moving forward shouldn't be stopped in their tracks while trying to plan," she said. "As long as projects aren't stopped today while they do planning, we're quite open to work to find the best, most balanced uses of oceans and to understand how to work with other competing users."
Meanwhile, the nascent marine hydrokinetic energy industry is concerned that such a move could stifle initial efforts to establish itself and its technology.
"Many developers have put forth substantial resources in IDing sites and have gone forward with developing them," said Carolyn Elefant, general counsel for the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition. "We would hate to see those sites delayed or the investments that developers made compromised by an inflexible plan."