As the US Coast Guard updates its management of coastwise navigation in Atlantic waters, the service is considering the impacts of offshore wind projects and other ocean energy development.
Through the end of January, the Coast Guard is accepting public comment on how renewable ocean energy facilities might affect users of near-coastal waters. The process reflects the need to balance the potential for offshore wind in US waters against the realities of modern navigation.
Ocean energy resources have significant potential. Many coastal states have enacted policies to promote the development of offshore wind resources, both close to shore and in deeper water. New and emerging hydrokinetic and other technologies may give us cost-effective ways to harness the power of tides, marine currents, and waves.
In most cases, the generating equipment will be installed in the ocean, and will be connected to the mainland via an underwater transmission cable. While each site and each technology has its nuances, overall the Coast Guard recognizes that ocean energy development has the potential to affect shipping and navigation.
To update its navigation rules and routes, and to help it balance navigation with renewable ocean energy, the Coast Guard kicked off an Atlantic coastwise Port Access Route Study in May 2011. Unlike previous port access route studies, this study did not focus on approaches to individual ports as much as on the coastwise shipping routes. The Coast Guard’s current study is thus targeted at near coastal users of the Western Atlantic Ocean – people plying routes between coastal ports.
Noting that several federally designated Wind Energy Areas lay near or on top of shipping routes, the Coast Guard hoped that the study would identify “all current and new users of the Western Atlantic near coastal zone, and help the Coast Guard determine what impact, if any, the siting, construction and operation of proposed alternative energy facilities may have on existing near coastal users of the Western Atlantic Ocean.”
By the time the comment period closed in August, the Coast Guard had received only 26 comments. These comments focused on issues relevant to oceangoing shipping and coastwise tug and barge traffic, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic. The limited scope of these comments, both in terms of geography and type of use, appears not to have fully satisfied the Coast Guard.
In December, the Coast Guard announced that it would reopen the comment period on the study, stating, “In addition to the Mid-Atlantic region, the Coast Guard has become aware of private sector interest in developing wind energy and hydrokinetic installations off the coasts of Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.”
The Coast Guard also expressed interest in hearing from other kinds of marine users, including commercial fishing vessels, small passenger vessels, sightseeing and eco-tour vessels like whale watching boats, recreational and charter fishing vessels, yachts, and sailing vessels.
In an attempt to gather information from stakeholders using these waters outside the Mid-Atlantic, the Coast Guard now seeks comments through January 31. Comments can be submitted to the Coast Guard online, or by fax, mail, or hand delivery. If the US offshore wind industry and other renewable ocean energy projects begin to grow, the use of the seas to produce energy will have to be balanced against navigation and other marine uses. How that balance shapes up will be determined in part by the public comments submitted to the Coast Guard.