Energy from the ocean is beginning to make a splash

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Washington state agreed yesterday to coordinate environmental reviews and establish licensing schedules for emerging hydrokinetic technologies.

FERC authorizes operating licenses for marine projects that produce energy from oceans and rivers, including wave and tidal power. States must sign off on environmental issues related to coastal zone management and pollution in their waters. Other federal entities, including the Interior Department, must conduct environmental, safety and security reviews.

Under the memorandum of understanding [pdf] (MOU) signed by Washington state and FERC, the two agreed to notify each other if there is a potential applicant, quickly coordinate and agree to a schedule to process the application, and coordinate environmental reviews with each other and stakeholders. FERC also will take into account in its licensing process any “comprehensive plan” Washington has for siting projects.

FERC signed a similar hydrokinetic energy MOU with Oregon last year.

The agreement will help the state use another form of clean and renewable energy, said FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller, who hails from Washington. “The next crucial step is to place some of these projects in the water so that any effects on the marine ecosystem can be thoroughly analyzed. It’s time for action on renewable energy technologies,” he said.

FERC already established a short-term license for wave developers to test their technology, as opposed to having to apply for the fully hydroelectric license, which can take a significant time, sometimes decades, to be issued.

The MOU is the latest step to help reduce regulatory barriers to support this fledgling renewable energy technology. The industry, along with offshore wind power, got a huge boost in April when Interior and FERC signed an MOU that settled the offshore renewable energy permitting process, partitioning the leasing duties to Interior and the licensing and environmental reviews to FERC, although Interior would help with the environmental permitting.