Turf battle over offshore wind energy is resolved

Wednesday, March 18th 2009, 4:54 pm
By: News 9

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A squabble between federal agencies that had delayed rules for offshore energy projects appears to be resolved.
   Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday that the Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had reached general agreement resolving the problem that dates back to 2007.
   Under the agreement, Interior's Minerals Management Service has jurisdiction over offshore wind projects, while the commission has the "primary responsibility" on licensing wave and ocean current projects to make electricity.
   The secretary told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the agreement allows the rules for wind projects to move forward.
   Salazar and Jon Wellinghoff, the acting FERC chairman, reached the agreement Monday night that clarifies the authority over wind projects stands with the Interior Department, while assuring that jurisdiction over licensing of wave and ocean current -- or "hydrokinetic" -- projects stand with the energy regulatory commission.
   Details of the arrangement, especially as it relates to the wave and ocean current program, remained to be worked out in a formal memorandum of agreement between the two agencies.
   But Salazar said the general agreement has removed impediments to the Interior Department moving forward on developing regulations on offshore wind projects. He said he expects the regulations to be completed "in the next couple of months."
   "We don't want to be tripping over each other" in the need to resolve the interagency dispute, Salazar said.
   While FERC had never challenged Interior's authority over offshore wind projects, wind development had long been entangled in the dispute because the Minerals Management Service did not want to separate wind projects from the tidal wave, or hydrokinetic power, programs. FERC, in turn, had refused to surrender that authority, according to several officials who have followed the dispute.
   FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller told the hearing that the commission's authority over wave and ocean current power projects "would not hinder in any way the timely development of associated wind facilities" on Outer Continental Shelf waters. He said the two agencies "must jointly overcome obstacles" that would delay offshore renewable energy development.
   The commission's authority stems from the Federal Power Act that gives it responsibility over regulating hydropower projects in navigable waters. But Congress in 2005 expanded Interior's authority over renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf.
   Salazar has been vocal in his call for more aggressive development of renewable energy projects off the country's coasts, especially off the northern and central Atlantic. He said the governors of New Jersey and Delaware have asked what is holding up the regulations and said projects off their coasts are ready to go.