DOI & FERC Announce Agreement on Renewable Energy Development

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar and Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Jon Wellinghoff announced that the two agencies have made plans to work together in order to facilitate the permitting of renewable energy in offshore waters as well as on land.

“Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress. I am proud that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding our respective roles in approving offshore renewable energy projects. 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,” Secretary Salazar said.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Minerals Management Service, has the authority to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way on the outer continental shelf (OCS) for the development of oil and gas resources.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide DOI with parallel permitting authority with regard to the production, transportation, or transmission of energy from additional sources on the OCS, including renewable energy sources.  

DOI’s responsibility for the permitting and development of renewable energy resources on the OCS is broad. In particular, it has permitting and development authority over wind power projects that use offshore resources beyond state waters.  

DOI’s authority does not take away from the responsibilities that other agencies have with regard to the OCS. Under the Federal Power Act, FERC has the responsibility to oversee the development of hydropower resources in navigable waters of the United States, including hydrokinetic power technologies that convert wave, tidal and ocean current energy to electricity. FERC will have the primary responsibility to manage the licensing of such projects in offshore waters using procedures developed for hydropower licenses with the active involvement of relevant federal land and resource agencies.   

Following the announcement American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Denise Bode said, “Timely development of U.S. offshore wind resources is important if we are to achieve the 20% vision by 2030. Today’s announcement by Interior Secretary Salazar and FERC Commissioner Wellinghoff is a welcome sign that some of the bureaucratic obstacles to offshore wind will soon be removed. It is also still another indication that the Obama Administration is ready to back up its commitment to renewable energy with concrete actions.”

DOI doesn’t intend to halt renewable energy development activities at the shore however. Secretary Salazar last week committed to developing renewable energy on federal lands through the designation of “renewable energy zones” and creation of a new task force to prioritize transmission rights-of-way applications for wind, solar and other renewable energy projects that could be sited on federal land.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), praised Secretary Salazar’s order to make the production, development and delivery of renewable energy a top priority for the department.
“Some of the best solar resources are in the Southwest U.S. on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Department of the Interior. Secretary Salazar’s designated ‘renewable energy zones’ will help expedite approval of project applications currently backlogged at BLM,” Resch said. “The U.S. has some of the best solar resources in the world – potentially 6,800 GW in the Southwest alone – yet we lack a modern transmission grid that can deliver solar energy to the population centers it is needed most. Today’s order is another indication that this administration is making renewable energy development a top priority.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, DOI manages one fifth of land in the U.S., as well as 1.7 billion acres on the OCS. These areas have some of the best renewable energy resources in the U.S. This includes 140 million acres of public land in western states and Alaska with geothermal resources, 29 million acres in the Southwest with solar energy potential and 21 million acres in 11 western states with wind energy potential.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to hold a hearing this week on energy development on federal lands. Secretary Salazar, along with officials from FERC, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and others will provide testimony. will follow the developments from the hearing, as well as renewable energy developments at DOI, FERC and DOE. Check back with us for more on the story.

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