Establishing Marine Renewable Energy: Using Risk Retirement to Simplify Environmental Permitting

Andrea E Copping1, Mikaela C Freeman2, Lenaig Hemery3 and Alicia M Gorton1, (1)Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Coastal Division, Richland, WA, United States, (2)Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Coastal Division, Seattle, WA, United States, (3)Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Coastal Division, Sequim, WA, United States
Generation of low carbon energy is needed to mitigate climate change and to support the sustainable use of the oceans. Marine renewable energy (MRE)—largely the generation of power from waves and tides—can assist with this need. However, MRE technologies are new and their potential environmental effects on marine organisms, habitats, and ecosystem processes are shrouded in uncertainty, causing concern for regulators and stakeholders. These concerns lead to requests for extensive data collection and monitoring around devices, which strain the financial resources of this fledgling industry and result in slow progress towards permitting MRE deployments. By focusing efforts on examining specific interactions and “retiring” certain low risks for small numbers of MRE devices, scientific uncertainty can be reduced and the MRE industry can progress with confidence that these devices will not harm marine resources.

Through an international collaboration, OES-Environmental, researchers from 15 nations have developed a risk retirement pathway to streamline permitting through collation of data and information from deployed MRE projects. By providing access to and analysis of datasets from devices that have been permitted, this work allows regulators and MRE device developers to assess whether proposed projects are likely to pose environmental risks (“data transferability”). Potential effects of underwater noise from operational turbines and wave energy converters, and potential effects of electromagnetic fields from power export cables have been examined. These risks have been deemed unlikely to cause harm to marine organisms or habitats from small numbers of MRE devices. This process of risk retirement has the potential to simplify permitting of tidal turbines and wave energy converters, leading to increases in deployments that will help establish this additional low carbon energy source in coastal and open ocean areas.