FERC, Interior Department Sign Agreement on Offshore Renewable Energy

April 15, 2009

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Department of the Interior have formalized an agreement for working cooperatively to lease and license renewable energy projects on the U.S. outer continental shelf (OCS). Following up on a general agreement reached in March, the two federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding on April 9 to clarify each agency's jurisdictional responsibilities. Under the agreement, Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has exclusive jurisdiction for non-hydrokinetic projects on the OCS, including wind and solar power, and to issue leases, easements, and rights-of-way regarding the OCS lands needed for hydrokinetic projects. FERC will issue licenses and exemptions from licensing for the construction and operation of hydrokinetic projects on the OCS, but only after the applicant has earned a lease, easement, or right-of-way from the MMS.

Hydrokinetic projects rely on moving water to generate electricity, but without the use of a dam. These include wave and tidal energy devices, as well as in-stream turbines that can capture energy from such sources as the Gulf Stream. To help expedite the in-ocean testing of such devices, which are still under development, FERC has been issuing preliminary permits to some wave and tidal energy companies. However, under the new agreement, FERC will no longer issue such preliminary permits. Instead, the companies will have to obtain a lease, easement, or right-of-way from the MMS, which will conduct any necessary environmental reviews, including those required under the National Environmental Policy Act. See the Interior Department press release and the full Memorandum of Understanding (PDF 15 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

Meanwhile, DOE is offering to invest as much as $12 million in advanced water power technologies over the next two fiscal years, subject to congressional appropriations. The funds will go toward developing and testing marine and hydrokinetic devices and performing site-specific environmental studies related to the installation, testing, and operation of those devices. Some funds will also go toward resource and cost assessments of U.S. offshore, in-stream, ocean thermal, and advanced hydropower resources. DOE expects to select seven projects for awards of up to $1.5 million. There's no direct link to the Funding Opportunity Announcement, so if interested, please follow the directions in DOE's Progress Alert, issued on April 8.