New agency to handle offshore energy

Posted June 18, 2009, at 10:54 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — Move over, FERC. There’s a new game in town: the Minerals Management Service.

Since 2005, the authority to regulate offshore energy development has belonged to Minerals Management Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Interior. The move may feel like a change for Mainers who are used to hearing about the regulation of proposed onshore liquid natural gas terminals through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, MMS officials say, and the approval process will be different.

“We are going to partner with the states, so that we’re working towards the same goal,” said Maureen Bornholdt, the program manager for the offshore renewable energy programs for the Minerals Management Service.

Bornholdt spoke at Thursday’s Energy Ocean conference at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, an event her agency helped to sponsor.

It wasn’t until late April of this year that the Minerals Management Service has had a framework to grant leases, easements and rights of way for the siting and construction of offshore wind farms, she said, and the first applications are expected to come in on June 29. The agency will regulate projects located between three and 200 miles offshore. The state will regulate wind energy projects within three miles of the coastline, she said.

Maine’s first applications for offshore wind projects likely will hit her agency by the end of the year — by which time the state also may have some sites going for environmental testing, Bornholdt said.

“Maine is doing the right thing,” she said. “Maine is galvanizing support for renewables at the state level and attracting developers to the area.”

Her agency is not limited to regulation of offshore wind facilities, but has allowed for more flexibility.

“We deal with all renewable energy,” she said. Other forms generated that far offshore might include ocean wave, ocean current and biomass, she said. The agency will partner with FERC to regulate ocean wave and ocean current projects, Bornholdt said.

The Minerals Management Service will differ from other regulatory agencies in that the agency at times will initiate its interactions with project developers, and not just wait for them to apply for permits. Another difference is that the service has its own technology assessment and research branch, and has spent millions of dollars over the years on renewable energy studies.

“We have the ability to acquire research,” Bornholdt said. “We can address and evaluate many types of renewable energy projects from an engineering standpoint and from the environmental impact standpoint.”

The service will work directly with states to do joint environmental impact statements. Similar to the FERC process, the agency will conduct public scoping sessions to gather comments on proposed offshore projects.

“Our process isn’t as closed as FERC’s,” Bornholdt said.

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