Turf Battle Ends as Agencies Divide Regulation of Offshore Alternative-Energy Projects

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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will divide responsibility for regulating offshore alternative energy sources such as wind and wave power, ending an interagency turf battle.

In a joint statement, the agencies said they will draw up "a short Memorandum of Understanding" that gives Interior the right to decide on wind power proposals in federal waters, while FERC will oversee wave, tidal and ocean-current projects. Officials had quarreled for a year and a half over whether Interior's Minerals Management Service would add jurisdiction over water-powered projects to its supervision of offshore windmill development.

"Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement yesterday. "This agreement will help sweep aside red tape so that our country can capture the great power of wave, tidal, wind and solar power off our coasts."

Interior oversees offshore oil drilling as well as dredging of sand and gravel for commercial purposes, while FERC has traditionally handled wave, tidal and ocean-current applications. Last fiscal year, the commission received 25 such applications, which are pending. It has gotten two this year, and so far it has approved a river-current project in Hastings, Minn., and a tidal venture in Makah Bay, Wash.

On Monday, Salazar told reporters in a conference call that the tug of war could hamper the new administration's efforts to expand renewable-energy capacity. "If we don't resolve the jurisdictional issues between FERC and the Department of Interior," he said, "we are not going to be able to move forward in the development of our offshore renewable energy resources."

Renewable-energy entrepreneurs, especially those in the wind sector, hailed the agreement as a way to level the playing field for competing projects. The Minerals Management Service subjects permitting applications to a detailed review that typically takes two years, while FERC can grant permits much more quickly.

"The most important thing is to make sure all the renewable technologies receive fair treatment and equitable treatment going forward," said James Lanard, who heads strategic planning and policy for Bluewater Wind, a New Jersey firm developing two projects offshore of New Jersey and Delaware.

In the past, Lanard added, wind companies had feared that wave and ocean current entrepreneurs would "tie up large swaths of the ocean" by getting an operating permit from FERC: "It's sort of been a race to the courthouse, a race to the permitting agency."

Interior and other "relevant federal land and resource agencies" will still be able to weigh in on hydropower licenses, the agencies said, though the commission "will have the primary responsibility to manage the licensing" of wave, tidal and ocean-current projects.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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