Ocean Energy On the Move in the Northwest: Oregon Adopts New Rules, FERC Finds No Significant Environmental Impacts for Snohomish PUD's Admiralty Inlet Tidal Project

January 30, 2013

Several recent developments in Oregon and Washington suggest that ocean energy -- electric generation driven by wave and tidal action -- is about to step onto the renewable energy stage in the Pacific Northwest. These developments include important policy changes in Oregon and the achievement of a major milestone for Washington's most important tidal energy project.

In Oregon, the state's Land Conservation and Development Commission on January 24 adopted a major amendment of the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan that identifies four areas off the Oregon Coast where renewable energy development will be preferred. The sites, off Camp Rilea, Nestucca, Reedsport, and Lakeside, comprise approximately 25 square miles, about 2% of Oregon's territorial sea. Two of the sites are thought to be ideal for shallow-water technologies and two for deep-water technologies. The Plan also identifies areas where renewable energy development might be permitted if conflicts with existing uses can be avoided or mitigated. These areas comprises roughly 163 square miles, about 11% of Oregon's territorial sea. Finally, the Plan identifies areas that will remain off limits to ocean energy development due to potential conflicts with existing uses, sensitive ecosystems, and similar concerns.

The amendment has been in the making since 2008, when, faced with a proliferation of FERC preliminary permits for ocean energy exploration and development, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a moratorium on such development. Since that time, Oregon's Land Development and Conservation Commission has been engaged in an extensive public process to identify existing uses, environmentally-sensitive areas, and important scenic and recreational areas, with the aim of ensuring that ocean energy development does not compromise any of these values. The new amendment is the culmination of that process.

In addition to identifying specific areas where ocean energy development will be allowed, the document provides important regulatory guidance, including a detailed description of the information ocean energy project sponsors will be required to provide.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Snohomish County PUD (a GTH client) continues to blaze a trail in tidal power with its Admiralty Inlet Tidal Project, a pilot project to be located in the Puget Sound off Whidbey Island. On January 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a draft Environmental Assessment ("EA") of the Admiralty Inlet project, concluding that will not create significant environmental impacts requiring the preparation of a full Environmental Impact Statement. The draft EA sets the stage for long-awaiting construction on the Admiralty Inlet project, possibly later this year. While a few opponents of the project, principally the owners of an undersea telecommunications cable, continue to rattle the litigation sword, the PUD deserves considerable credit for its careful plan of community outreach and dialogue, which has largely been effective in addressing local concerns in the project's early stages.

Ocean energy development in the Pacific Northwest has benefited from considerable support from both policy-makers and the region's major research universities. The University of Washington and Oregon State University have partnered to create the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center ("NNMREC"), a research institution aimed at commercializing ocean energy technology. NNMREC is providing significant support for the Admiralty Inlet project, including, for example, the development of technologically-advanced monitoring equipment that will help quantify the extent to which the Project interacts with marine wildlife. In Oregon, NNMREC announced in January that it has selected Newport as the site of the Pacific Marine Energy Center, a facility that will test energy generation potential and the environmental impacts of wave energy devices. The wave energy site will be located about five miles from shore and will be connected by subsea cables designed to transmit energy from the wave energy devices to the local power grid, and data to scientists and engineers at on-shore research facilities. In addition, Oregon's Wave Energy Trust offers significant financial support for ocean energy research and development. And the Renewable Portfolio Standards in both states encourage the commercial use of ocean energy.

As these recent developments demonstrate, the combination of robust tidal and wave resources, institutional support, and public policy backing promise to make the Pacific Northwest a leading center of ocean energy development in the coming decades.

If you have any questions about the wave or tidal energy, or other matters discussed in this post, please contact a member of GTH's Renewable Energy practice group or Environment & Natural Resources practice group. These practice groups are consistently recognized as among the best, both nationally and in the Pacific Northwest.