Ocean Energy: A Solution for America’s Energy Problem
                                          Adam Sherwin

process required for electric generation facilities.9 For facilities to be located on the Outer
Continental Shelf (“OCS”),...
these projects.17 This is similar to concerns that others have had over “wind farms” that would
be located on mountains, r...
old offshore rigs as locations for renewable energy facilities.23 Additionally, private and public
entities can do more to...
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Writing Sample - Ocean Energy Research Paper


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The following is a brief research paper that I wrote on ocean energy for an energy law course I took at Vermont Law School in 2009. This paper required research on energy policy, congressional legislation, and administration regulations.

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Writing Sample - Ocean Energy Research Paper

  1. 1. Ocean Energy: A Solution for America’s Energy Problem Adam Sherwin America’s energy future can be described as a “trilemma.”1 The challenge of meeting the country’s energy demands requires consideration of three central problems: national security and reliability costs, financial costs, and environmental costs.2 Solving this “trilemma” requires solutions that take into account each of these factors. While there are no easy solutions, ocean energy is one way of helping America with its energy problem. Ocean energy has enormous potential as an energy source. Experts estimate that the ocean could generate up to two terawatts of electricity, which would equivalent to twice of the world’s electricity production.3 Ocean energy comes from two main sources: wave and tidal power.4 Wave power is the generation of electricity from ocean waves, and is produced through both onshore and offshore systems.5 Examples of these systems include floats that rotate turbines as they are “bobbed” from the movement of waves, and partially submerged water columns that rise and fall from waves, creating air pressure that rotates a turbine.6 Tidal power is generated from ocean tides forcing water through submerged turbines.7 Because of the need for strong tides and waves, only certain locations are optimal for these systems, including the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Australia, and the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States.8 State and federal approval processes are required for ocean energy facilities. For projects located within the jurisdiction of states, facilities must generally go through the standard siting 1 MICHAEL DWORKIN, INS. FOR ENERGY AND THE ENV’T, VT. LAW SCHOOL, ENERGY POLICY FOR A CARBON CONSTRAINED WORLD: AN INTRODUCTION TO OUR TRILEMMA 7 (2009). 2 Id. 3 Lisa A. Kelley, Comment, The Power of the Sea: Using Ocean Energy to Meet Florida’s Need for Power, 37 ENVTL. L. 489, 492 (2007). 4 Kate Galbraith, Power from the Sea Stirs the Imagination, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 23, 2008, at C3. The ocean is also capable of producing thermal energy, which uses the energy stored in oceans to produce electricity. Energy Savers, U.S. Dept’ of Energy, Energy Savers: Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, http://www.energysavers.gov/renewable_energy/ocean/index.cfm/mytopic=50010 (last visited Oct. 13, 2009). Similar to wave and tidal power, ocean thermal energy has the possibility of producing enormous amounts of electricity. Id. 5 Energy Savers, U.S. Dept’ of Energy, Energy Savers: Ocean Wave Power, http://www.energysavers.gov/ renewable_ energy/ ocean/index.cfm/mytopic=50009 (last visited Oct. 13, 2009). 6 Id. 7 Energy Savers, U.S. Dept’ of Energy, Energy Savers: Ocean Tidal Power, http://www.energysavers.gov/ renewable_ energy/ ocean/index.cfm/mytopic=50008 (last visited Oct. 13, 2009). 8 Energy Savers: Ocean Tidal Power, supra note 7; Energy Savers: Ocean Wave Power, supra note 5.
  2. 2. process required for electric generation facilities.9 For facilities to be located on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), which are “all submerged lands lying seaward and outside of the area of lands beneath navigable waters,”10 the federal government is responsible for granting leases, easements, and right-of-ways for activities that produce energy from sources other than oil and gas.11 The Department of the Interior is responsible for this process, and uses a Renewable Energy Framework that includes consideration of safety, protection of the environment, coordination with affected state, local governments and federal agencies, fair return of use of OSC lands, and equitable sharing of revenue with states.12 Ocean energy currently represents a negligible share of America’s energy production.13 Compared to other renewable energy sources, ocean energy has yet to be widely used as a viable means of generating electricity.14 Several obstacles have impeded the development of these projects. First, these facilities are expensive to build, particularly because of their enormous fixed costs, including expenses for permits, surveys, grid connection, and research and development.15 As a new technology, these facilities are not fully reliable, and developers will need to modify and redesign these models over time, which further increases their production costs.16 These high costs require developers to raise large amounts of capital, which prevents these facilities from being easily constructed. Aesthetics are another problem for developing ocean energy facilities. While most tidal energy facilities will be submerged and not visible from the shorelines, wave energy facilities use floats, buoys, and other equipment that need to be near the water’s surface. The negative visual impact that some believe these facilities will cause has been a driving force in opposing 9 Kelley, supra note 3, at 506–07. 10 43 U.S.C. § 1331(a) (2009). States have jurisdiction over submerged lands extending up to three miles from the coast, and the federal government has jurisdiction over the rest of the OCS. Id. § 1301(b). 11 Id. § 1337(p)(1)(c) (2009). 12 MINERALS MGMT. SERV, U.S. DEP’T OF THE INTERIOR, WORKSHOP ON THE OUTER CONTINENTAL SHELF RENEWABLE ENERGY REGULATORY FRAMEWORK 5 (2009), available at http://www.mms.gov/ PDFs /DC workshop060409.pdf. 13 See Energy Info. Admin., U.S. Dep’t of Energy, Renewable Energy Sources – Energy Explained, Your Guide to Understanding Energy, http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/ index.cfm?page= renewable_ home (last visited Oct. 8, 2009) (describing America’s major renewable energy sources, which include solar, geothermal, wind, hydropower, and biomass). 14 Id. 15 WORLD ENERGY COUNCIL, THE PROSPECTS FOR WAVE ENERGY, SURVEY OF ENERGY RESOURCES 2007 (2007), available at http://www.worldenergy.org/ publications/ survey_of_energy_resources_2 007/ wave_ energy/763.asp. Pelamis Wave Power, a Scottish energy company, needed to raise $77 million to develop a small wave-energy farm off the coast of Portugal. Kate Galbraith, Power from the Sea Stirs the Imagination, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 23, 2008, at C3. This is significantly more expensive than other renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, which developers can start-up for as little at $5 million. Id. 16 Id. 2
  3. 3. these projects.17 This is similar to concerns that others have had over “wind farms” that would be located on mountains, ridgelines, and other scenic areas.18 Because aesthetics is often a criterion in the siting process of electric generation facilities, such concerns make it harder for developers to get these projects approved. Finally, potential environmental problems are another challenge facing ocean energy facilities. These concerns have arisen because of the damages that these systems could have on the physical and biological environment, with possible detrimental effects on ocean currents and waves and harm to fish and wildlife.19 While these consequences are possible, most studies have found the environmental impacts of these projects to be minimal, “provided developers show sensitivity when selecting sites for deployment and that all the key stakeholders are consulted.”20 While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, public and private entities can do many things to help develop ocean energy facilities. First, while the high start-up costs of these projects are unavoidable, states and the federal government can alleviate these costs by expanding the tax credits and subsidies that are available to companies pursuing this technology. For example, the federal government currently offers a renewable electricity production tax credit for “qualified energy resources,” including marine renewable energy.21 Additional incentives like this will help developers with the large costs that are required of these projects. Second, to deal with aesthetic, environmental, and “not in my backyard” concerns of these facilities, private and public entities can make a better effort to win public support for these projects. This is important considering that many renewable energy projects have failed, in large part, due to opposition from public interest groups.22 To help build consensus for these projects, developers can work with local planners in selecting locations that will be least burdensome to surrounding communities. Public and private entities can also seek out new ways of constructing these facilities that will lessen the negative impacts of these projects, such as the “Rigs to Renewables” program, proposed by the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, which would use 17 Kelley, supra note 3, at 509. 18 See Editorial, Blowhards: The Fabulous Debate over Wind Power on Nantucket Sound, WALL ST . J., Jan. 24, 2009 (discussing the conflict over the proposed offshore wind farm in Massachusetts, which would be located near Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket). 19 U.S. DEP’T OF ENERGY, REPORT TO CONGRESS: POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF MARINE AND HYDROKINECTIC ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES, at v (2008), available at http://www.oceanrenewable.com/wp- content/uploads/2009/01/eisa_report_draft_kl2.pdf. 20 WORLD ENERGY COUNCIL, WAVE – ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS, SURVEY OF ENERGY RESOURCES 2007 (2007), available at http://www.worldenergy.org/publications/ survey_of_energy_ resources_2007/wave_ energy/762.asp. 21 26 U.S.C. § 45 (2009). 22 Kelley, supra note 3 at 512. 3
  4. 4. old offshore rigs as locations for renewable energy facilities.23 Additionally, private and public entities can do more to educate the public about the benefits of ocean energy, and solicit public input as to better ways of siting these facilities in communities. Ocean energy can have an important role in helping to solve American’s “trilemma.” Compared to current energy sources, ocean energy will produce electricity with a minimal impact on the environment, and most importantly, without the creation of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. While financial costs, a part of the “trilemma,” are a significant hurdle to overcome, states and the federal government can expand tax credits and subsidies to support this technology. Finally, while ocean energy facilities face many of the similar aesthetic and “not in my backyard” concerns as other renewable energy projects, public and private entities can work together to build support for these facilities. Given America’s growing demand for energy, and the problems posed by the “trilemma,” ocean energy should be a central part of American’s future energy plan. 23 Timothy Holahan, Note, A Framework for Alternative Energy Development: Shifting From Drilling Rigs to Renewables, 35 B.C. ENVTL. AFF. L. REV. 321, 322 (2008). 4