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US MMS Moves Forward With Alternative Energy Leases on the Outer Continental Shelf

The US Minerals Management Service (MMS) is proceeding with the consultation and analyses necessary to move toward the issuance of limited leases under its interim policy for authorizing alternative energy data collection and technology testing activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

MMS announced its interim policy in November 2007 to jumpstart basic information gathering efforts relating to development of OCS alternative energy resources such as wind, waves, and ocean currents as authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct). The limited leases envisioned under the interim policy will be for a term of five years and will not convey any right or priority for commercial development.

Following the initial announcement, MMS received more than 40 nominations of areas proposed for limited leasing off the west and east coasts. In April MMS identified a subset of 16 proposed lease areas for priority consideration and provided public notice of those areas for the purpose of determining competitive interest as required by EPAct and for receiving relevant environmental or other information. The comment period on the April notice closed on June 30. A brief description of the information received and MMS’s decisions concerning the 16 proposed lease areas follows.

  • New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia—the 10 lease areas (six off NJ, one off DE, and three off GA) proposed for site assessment activities relating to wind resources drew no competing nominations and no significant comment. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for these sites.

  • Florida—three of the four lease areas off the southeast coast proposed for site assessment or technology testing activities relating to ocean current resources received competing nominations, and comments concerning the areas were favorable. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for the one site that did not receive competing nominations. Due to timing constraints inherent in the interim policy, as well as bureau budget and staffing considerations, MMS has decided not to proceed with a competitive auction for the other areas. Instead, the competing nominators have been asked to collaborate in order to enable interested parties to jointly benefit in information gathering under leases issued noncompetitively.

  • California—neither of the two areas off Northern California (Humboldt and Mendocino Counties) proposed for site assessment and technology testing relating to wave resources drew new competing nominations. However, based on two original overlapping nominations in the Humboldt area from the initial Call for Nominations in Nov. 2007, MMS has determined that there is competitive interest in that proposed lease area. MMS also received numerous comments from local stakeholders concerned about potential use conflicts and environmental issues in both areas. For the Mendocino area, MMS has decided to proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process, working with the applicant and local stakeholders to refine the area and scope of proposed activities and to address other local concerns. For the Humboldt area, MMS has decided not to hold a competitive auction and to ask the competing nominators to collaborate. If they agree to collaborate, MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process as in the Mendocino area.

The process for issuing limited leases under the interim policy will entail thorough environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws, as well as close consultation with federal, state, and local government agencies as required by EPAct.

The limited leases that will be issued under the interim policy will enable the lessees to collect information that will be useful for potential commercial projects in the future under an MMS regulatory program that is in development.

MMS published a proposed OCS alternative energy rulemaking on July 9, 2008. When final, this rule will govern all future commercial OCS alternative energy activities and will apply to any future commercial development in the areas leased under the interim policy. Limited leaseholders wishing to conduct commercial activities will need separate authorization under the final rule that is adopted.

The MMS interim policy is ongoing pending the adoption of a final rule governing OCS alternative energy activity. Interested parties may continue to submit nominations, and MMS may act on other nominations that already have been received or are received in the future.

The specific companies involved with the proposed projects are listed below:

  • Delaware: Bluewater Wind Delaware LLC (wind resources data collection)

  • New Jersey: Bluewater Wind New Jersey Energy LLC (3 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection). Fisherman’s Energy of New Jersey (wind resources data collection). Winergy Power LLC (2 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection)

  • Georgia: Southern Company (3 OCS blocks for wind resources data collection)

  • Florida: Aquantis LLC/Aquantis Development Co. Inc. (ocean current data collection and technology testing)

  • California: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (wave resources data collection, offshore Mendocino)

There is one proposed lease area off California and three off Florida where there is overlapping interest. For those areas, MMS is investigating whether the companies are interested in collaborating on resource data collection activities. Those companies are:

  • California: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Marine Sciences (wave resources data collection offshore Humboldt)

  • Florida: Proposed lease area 1: Oceana Energy Co and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection). Proposed lease area 2: Marine Sciences and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection). Proposed lease area 4: Florida Power & Light Co and Vision Energy LLC (ocean current resource data collection).


John Taylor

No body heard anything about this till all of a sudden we find out

"there are no competing nominations and no significant comment. MMS will proceed with a noncompetitive leasing process for these sites."

It's sort of hard for competition to find out there is a process, much less get in on it.
The resource sell off to "insiders" continues ...
I would prefer to see leasing only available when wind machines were going to be installed, not sold in a way that keeps real competitors out.

However, it is nice to see wind is now recognized as an energy resource.


Worship of process.

The perfect storm of buzzwords. They develop procedures for making inquiries about whether inquiries should be made.

They study how they might ask questions. And when the answers are received they ask the questions. And someday limited leases are to be awarded for the purpose of gathering more data.

Then the limited leases will run for five years and will not allow anything to actually be developed.

And it is all interim. When the real rules become final:

"under an MMS regulatory program that is in development."


"Limited leaseholders wishing to conduct commercial activities will need separate authorization under the final rule that is adopted."

This is interesting:

"interested parties may continue to submit nominations, and MMS may act on other nominations that already have been received or are received in the future."

I'm guessing it means we can payoff our friends after others do the hard work.


C'mon folks - you know the drill. We're in the 8th year of a two-term president who is on his way out. The current MMS bureaucrats probably have some kind of mandate/legislation that they're following for this. When the new regime installs his puppets to run all the agencies & new legislation/directives are given - then we'll really see if there's going to be a radical expansion of OCS areas for renewable energy leases. Also, in case you're new to dealing with government - it's wrought with red tape and really takes a lot of patience, effort, and process massaging to be successful.


Actually, this doesn't sound that bad. Keep in mind that ocean-based renewable energy is still developing some of its basic technologies (not so much in wind, but certainly in wave, tidal and current-based power-generation). AS THE STORY SAYS, this is something Congress ordered the MMS to do via the "EPAct" or Energy Policy Act in 2005. It's possible there's been foot-dragging by a White House occupied by two oil company execs, then again this is as big a deal the opening up of the trans-Mississippi West after the Civil War. It took time to come up with rules to divide the spoils of that conquest.
The oceans aren't as "vast and unoccupied" as many folks like to think. The best areas for sustainable power generation often happen to be already occupied by fishermen, shipping lanes in and out of ports, military and industrial dumps, military training areas (subsea, sea surface, and naval air exercises), and of course, the all-important weekend sailing set (think Nantucket and the windfarm in eternal permit-land there).

This type of permitting process is a necessary evil to channel the "political energies" of all these sorts of groups into something vaguely resembling a technically literate discussion of best-possible uses, maybe even create a "real-estate development" environment where creative types can engineer ways to combine multiple uses into the same areas. I've heard some stories about the offshore windfarms in Europe becoming better breeding grounds for fish -- if so, perhaps that sort of beneficial side-effect can be more consciously designed into the overall plans to allow more than one type of sustainable production in an area. So far, I don't think that's been an emphasis in offshore resource-management anywhere in the world.

I truly think offshore development of the Continent Shelves and other nearshore environments is the next big thing in civilization, comparable to the opening up of the temperate grasslands for grain production in the 1800s (that was a worldwide phenomenon, not often realized in US discussions of our Great Plains). Why should this opening up of the seas be so important? The seas concentrate solar and other sustainable powers, probably the most "energy-dense" sustainable energy forms around. They also concentrate it in areas very close to the energy markets -- most of the world's population, industry, etc. is close to the ocean coasts. They also present an opportunity to use some of that power to desalinate seawater, so opening up another resource-expansion opportunity (often using the same power-generation technology with only "slight" modification). These coastal areas are also (as mentioned above) among the most biologically active areas in the oceans, so they're already among the historically best fishing areas. That most likely means they're not only worth preserving for that capability, they're also the most likely areas for serious development of aquaculture, whether fish/ heterotroph-based, or sea-vegetation/ autotroph-based. Even if other areas further out show any promise for aquaculture or energy production, etc, that will only come later after the kinks (technologically, industrially and politically) have been worked out here, close to shore.

Keep in mind that energy-scarcity will also mean that cheap freight transportation will be more important than ever for maintaining viable costs of living, so ocean-based transport will remain or grow in importance. In fact, I suspect the ocean-current power generation technologies will have spin-offs to provide power-sources for ocean-shipping as well. So figuring out how to keep sealanes open between the power-fields will be a big concern. And if you haven't heard, the British Defense Ministry has already raised objections to offshore windfarms for messing up their mil radar stations' views of the North Sea... personally, I'd say post additional radar stations off-shore, but that's the sort of issue that land-use and zoning people have to deal with all the time on land, and the oceans' users are going to become increasingly familiar with as well.

It's a funny thing how everyone looks at the world through their own eyes, seeing the obvious ties between their issues and the land or areas around themselves. What few realize is how everyone else, with their own specialties and lives, can look at the very same landscape or seascape and see a totally different outlook on what's valuable, marginal or even threatening. The post-petroleum resource industries are still in the very beginning stages of discovering how to fit themselves into everyone else's worlds. While the importance of all this is obvious to anyone in the field, it isn't that obvious to others deep into their own specialty, especially if they've seen other competitors for "their" resources come and go. Proving that these technologies work is but one step in their development. Learning to fit these activities into the "worlds" of others is just one more step, as is fitting their production schedules into the demands of the markets. I've no doubt all these points will be figured out, but it usually takes way more time than anyone wants it to, and it also takes more time than most unfamiliar with all the issues "out there" realize.

Yes, there are political angles to this, but there are other, "real" issues to be dealt with as well. Please don't assume that this is all just political BS, for that can set you up for a very sad set of self-fulfilling prophecies. This sort of permitting process can be a fairly civilized way of taming the mutual discovery process as some people with very good, even world-saving ideas find out that their very worthwhile plans still manage to effect some other people, good people, in ways that have so far been entirely unanticipated. I hope that this process can become one where people interested in sustainable living can find each other and figure out how to not only get along, but improve the overall outcome.


disgusted and amused has a utopian view of human dominion over all ecosystems on earth that is fascinating.

I see it very differently. Instead of trying to colonize the sea and turn it into a huge area for power generation and aquaculture, perhaps we should learn to control our population and stop using so much electricity.

A big factor that is not being mentioned in this discussion is the harm these windfarms will have in terms of increased pollution and take of wildlife. The maintenance costs at these outershelf areas will be huge. Each one will need constant maintenance and repair by a crew willing to boat out there every day or two. Power cables will have to run the current back to the grid.

Migrating birds will run into these huge structures and get killed by the thousands. Hurricanes will shred the turbines and wreck millions of dollars of invested captital, and the salt water will eat the gears to shreds. Sounds like a land-based farm would be superior in every way except that people will have to see the turbines.

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