Interior Department Moves Ahead on Offshore Renewable Energy

July 16, 2008

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the U.S. Department of the Interior published a proposed rule on July 9 for the regulation of "alternative" energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). As defined by MMS, "alternative" energy means renewable energy, specifically including, but not limited to, wind, wave, solar, and ocean current energy projects, as well as projects to generate hydrogen. The proposed regulations will establish a program to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way for renewable energy projects in federal waters on the OCS. The rule will also establish methods for sharing lease revenues with nearby coastal states. The MMS was authorized to establish an OCS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Program by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The proposed rule is open to public comments through September 8, and the MMS expects to publish a final rule by December 2008. See the MMS press release and the proposed rule (PDF 1.1 MB), as published in the Federal Register. Download Adobe Reader.

To meet its new responsibilities, the MMS has also established a new Office of Offshore Alternative Energy Programs. The new office will develop and implement policy, analysis, and overall management of the OCS alternative energy leasing and operations program while ensuring compliance with the goals and philosophy of the Department of Interior. The new office will be part of the Offshore Energy and Minerals Management Program, formerly the Offshore Minerals Management Program, which was renamed to reflect its expanded duties. The office is currently evaluating a proposal by Cape Wind Associates, LLC to build a 468-megawatt wind power facility off the coast of Massachusetts and a proposal by the Long Island Power Authority and FPL Energy to build a 144-megawatt wind project off the coast of Long Island, New York. See the MMS press release and the Offshore Alternative Energy Program Web site.

Photo of a wind turbine mounted on a steel column, mounted at the center of a hexagonal steel structure, with large steel columns at each corner. The floating structure is being towed to sea by two tugboats.

Blue H towed its prototype floating platform for wind turbines to sea in December 2007. The hollow steel structure is largely underwater and is stabilized by a hexagonal counterweight mounted at its bottom. Enlarge this image.
Credit: Blue H Technologies BV

While the Cape Wind and Long Island projects are the furthest along of any proposals to build wind facilities on the OCS, a number of other offshore wind power proposals are also in the works. Perhaps the most ambitious proposal comes from Blue H USA, LLC, which plans to build a 420-megawatt wind power project far off the coast of Massachusetts, about 23 miles from Martha's Vineyard. The facility would be located in waters 167 feet deep and would employ floating wind turbines, which the parent company, Blue H Technologies BV, demonstrated with a prototype in December 2007. The technology uses a modified version of the submerged tension-legged platforms used by the oil industry. See the Blue H press releases about the floating turbine and the Massachusetts project.