Ocean Currents » Susan Olcott http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 31 Aug 2015 22:39:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 New Offshore Renewable Energy Technology Highlights Need for Smart Ocean Planning http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/12/26/new-offshore-renewable-energy-technology-highlights-need-for-smart-ocean-planning/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/12/26/new-offshore-renewable-energy-technology-highlights-need-for-smart-ocean-planning/#comments Thu, 26 Dec 2013 15:52:33 +0000 Susan Olcott http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7255

The VolturnUS floating wind turbine off the coast of Castine, Maine.

It was a blustery Maine day when I hiked out to a rocky promontory through the snow to get a glimpse of the University of Maine’s VolturnUS wind turbine in action. Ironically, I had seen the launch of this experimental turbine onto a barge in the Penobscot River on one of the hottest days of the summer – with much ceremony celebrating the first floating platform wind turbine to be tested in U.S. waters.

Today’s visit took me far upriver to the current testing site at Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) in Castine.

Guiding me to the viewing spot was Rick Armstrong, director of the Tidal Energy Device Evaluation Center, otherwise known as TEDEC. Had our weather been a bit more favorable, we would have taken one of MMA’s boats out to get an up-close look at the turbine as well another of their sites: a platform for testing tidal energy devices in the Bagaduce River.

Rick has shaped TEDEC’s program into a unique education and testing facility where students can learn the skills they need to work in an emerging renewable energy industry and companies can test their technology at MMA’s test site. With a grant from the Maine Technology Institute in collaboration with the Maine Ocean and Wind Industry Initiative, TEDEC was able to construct the tidal platform to test innovative devices that might someday have commercial application. Rick had to jump through a number of hoops to get the four current testing sites permitted, but with cooperation and support from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, they can now attract companies from across the United States (and even Canada) that are interested in entering the U.S. market.

The potential economic gains for Maine and the job opportunities for MMA graduates are huge.

So, the technology now has a great place to be developed, but what happens next for the University of Maine’s VolturnUS project and the tidal generation devices? It is a tricky thing to decide where ocean energy devices might find a home among the many existing uses in the water.

Fortunately, a comprehensive planning process is already underway to guide the future uses of our coasts and oceans. As a part of the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy, nine regions around the country will each develop an ocean management plan. The Northeast region is leading the way, and its official Regional Planning Body has already held several meetings and outlined its planning goals after substantial public input.

“It is one thing for us to test the devices and prepare a new generation of mariners to develop new technologies to extract electric power from the tides and be skilled in deployment and maintenance,” Rick told me, “but unless we have environmentally sound sites for installation and stakeholder acceptance of those sites, the great opportunity for renewable tidal energy will be lost. Coastal and marine spatial planning is an essential ingredient in finding the right sites and providing appropriate, nonconflicting and commercially viable places for installations.”

Facilities like TEDEC are paving the way for new energy generating technologies, and regional planning is laying the foundation to help us make the best decisions going forward about how this new technology can contribute to our economy in a sustainable way. The public can participate in the regional planning process by contributing valuable information and perspectives – and by letting their legislators know that they support funding to complete this important work.

To receive updates and opportunities to participate, click here.

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North America’s First Floating Wind Turbine Raises Need for Smart Ocean Planning http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/07/north-americas-first-floating-wind-turbine-raises-need-for-smart-ocean-planning/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/07/north-americas-first-floating-wind-turbine-raises-need-for-smart-ocean-planning/#comments Wed, 07 Aug 2013 20:00:43 +0000 Susan Olcott http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6487 VolturnUS turbine

Photo: Susan Olcott / Ocean Conservancy

When I first saw the VolturnUS, North America’s first floating wind turbine, it was smaller than I had imagined. But once I realized it was just a 1/8 scale model, I knew the potential implications for this new technology were huge.

Developed by the University of Maine’s DeepCWind Consortium, the launch of VolturnUS could mark the beginning of a new industry in Maine. “This project is a first-of-its-kind design to help develop more cost-effective offshore wind technologies,” says Habib Dagher of the DeepCWind Consortium.

Making this happen will be complicated both financially and technologically, but the real question is: How do you decide where to put these turbines?

Back in 2008, the state established an Ocean Energy Task Force to identify ways in which the ocean energy industry could be jumpstarted to provide for cleaner energy sources and local jobs. The task force also wanted to help establish Maine as a leader in the ocean energy arena.

One of the task force’s recommendations was the identification of up to five sites along the coast that would be appropriate for testing ocean energy devices. More than 50 meetings and less than a year later, the agencies involved designated three test sites in Maine’s coastal waters. This was a lot of work to decide what to do with an area less than 5 square nautical miles, which is relatively small compared to the coast of New England.

Collecting data and gathering stakeholder input about ecological and human uses along the entire New England coast is the heady task recently begun by the Northeast Regional Planning Body, an intergovernmental council created by the National Ocean Policy.

The idea of regional ocean planning is to put siting exercises like Maine’s into context by making them part of a region-wide set of publicly accessible information that can be used to inform decisions about what happens where off our coasts, including where to potentially put new uses like renewable energy.

This will mean that ocean businesses won’t have to reinvent the wheel by collecting data and information that are already out there. It will also help us to make the best decisions possible for the long-term ecological and economic health of our coasts.

“Proactive planning can ensure that conflicts with current users are minimized,” says Paul Williamson of the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative. “Planning will also provide market stability and certainty, reducing risks associated with ocean energy projects and encouraging the massive investment that such projects will require.”

Another goal of regional planning is to coordinate the agencies involved in project permitting so that it is clear to those interested in developing new uses how to proceed.

We need a clear map not only of the resources and uses out there, but also of what needs to happen to get a project in the water. This is something that regional planning can help to address.

The Northeast Regional Planning Body is currently reviewing feedback on their draft planning goals to provide a framework for how they are going to tackle this herculean task. Their next meeting will be this fall.

Meanwhile, new maritime technologies will continue to develop, and we would be wise to create a plan designed to help guide them and to be adaptable for whatever might come next.

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Rising Tidal Energy: What Fast Company’s #8 “Most Innovative Company in Energy” Learned from Ocean Planning http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/01/risingtidal-energy-what-fast-companys-8-most-innovative-company-in-energy-learned-from-ocean-planning/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/01/risingtidal-energy-what-fast-companys-8-most-innovative-company-in-energy-learned-from-ocean-planning/#comments Fri, 01 Mar 2013 17:29:11 +0000 Susan Olcott http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4831

When Fast Company released its “World’s Most Innovative Companies in Energy”, a familiar name was on the list – the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC). Ranked #8 on the list, ORPC has been involved with ocean planning on the local level in Maine (and a great example of what can be achieved regionally), and as we’ve written about before (here, here and here), it’s important to find meaningful ways for users to participate so that they can share their concerns as well as their expertise. Many companies, like ORPC, have benefited already, and Nathan Johnson, Director of Environmental Affairs, shared his experience with their tidal energy project in Maine:

In my work at ORPC, I have been intimately involved with ocean planning and community engagement on a local scale in the communities of Eastport and Lubec, Maine.  This has been critical to ORPC’s successful installation of the first federally-licensed, grid-connected, tidal energy project in the Americas, not using a dam or barrage.

Through early, open and frequent communications, ORPC developed relationships, and more importantly trust, that were vital to the success of the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project.  From the development stage, we sought input from fishermen in the area.  Initial discussions with the Cobscook Bay Fishermen’s Association, facilitated by the Cobscook Bay Resource Center, contributed to the siting of the project. This location met the company’s tidal energy resource requirements while minimizing conflict with fishing activities.

ORPC’s approach to local relationships is not strictly through outreach, but engagement of local, skilled maritime workers. When planning for protected species observations for our foundation installation we turned to folks most familiar with the local waters – the community. Commercial fishermen, port workers, a kayak tour owner and a whale watch tour guide, as well as ORPC staff, were trained for the task by Dr. Moira Brown at the New England Aquarium. These observers carried out their duties exceptionally well during the initial phase of construction for the Cobscook Bay Project, and will continue to be of assistance to ORPC as we expand our Maine Tidal Energy Project in the region.

The Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project has demonstrated that strong, transparent relationships with the commercial fishing community and engagement of local divers and mariners to support tidal energy construction, operations and monitoring programs contribute to a project’s success while minimizing potential conflicts.

As New England regional planning begins and methods to involve stakeholders are investigated, our project serves as a positive example of collaboration between existing marine users and new industry. In essence, we have implemented many of the principles of smart ocean planning and have shown its success. By forging an early path of engagement and through continued diligence, new ocean users can contribute to increased sustainability and vitality of coastal communities.

ORPC is looking forward to collaborating with the Northeast Regional Planning Body, as well as planning bodies in other regions of the country where we are developing projects, to generate a planning and implementation process for the National Ocean Policy that can help all stakeholders and build stronger communities.

A recent video highlighting ORPC’s power system installation in Cobscook Bay is available at http://orpc.co/newsevents_mediacenter.aspx?id=4tKZJsmT1bM%3d.

Nathan Johnson leads ORPC’s site licensing and permitting efforts, leveraging local and global relationships to develop innovative approaches to marine hydrokinetic permitting and environmental monitoring. A native of Long Island, Maine, Nathan has a diverse background that includes commercial fishing, construction management and more than ten years in environmental engineering.


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Increased Maritime Activity Highlights Need for National Ocean Policy http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/08/increased-maritime-activity-highlights-need-for-national-ocean-policy/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/08/increased-maritime-activity-highlights-need-for-national-ocean-policy/#comments Tue, 08 Jan 2013 18:59:28 +0000 Susan Olcott http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4159

This post originally appeared on gCaptain.

This New Year comes with new opportunities – as well as the potential for conflicts – in the open ocean.

In 2013, the US federal government will offer competitive lease sales for offshore wind farms in the waters off of Virginia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Considering the impact these sites could have on existing ocean industries, like shipping lanes or port traffic, the need for coordination and collaboration is vital. The National Ocean Policy aims to address those concerns.

The Policy – which was adopted in 2010, with an implementation plan expected soon – provides guidance in making decisions that will protect the United States’ ocean, waterways and coastlines. More than 20 federal agencies and over 140 laws address our coasts and the ocean, often in competing and conflicting ways. The policy improves collaboration and coordination and empowers the states to have a greater say in federal decision-making.

The Policy will create an ocean atlas with information on ocean uses and resources, providing information to state, tribal and federal agencies, as well as ocean users and the public, in a transparent manner. It also recommends a hands-on process to enable stakeholders to help make smart decisions about important ocean and coastal resources.

Some regions are already moving forward toward implementation.

The New England Regional Planning Body (RBP) met in November for the first meeting of its kind. This group, along with other regionally-based groups that would be established, includes representatives from state agencies, tribes, the regional fisheries management council and local governments, and will work with stakeholders and the public to gather information and, where relevant, develop plans.

Mariners are encouraged to join in the engagement process.

In 2010, 77 percent of U.S. imports— a total of $1.9 trillion in value— arrived via ports.  Given the importance of the maritime industry on the economy, the Policy aims to maximize economic benefits while safeguarding the jobs that depend on a healthy marine environment. Access to comprehensive data can lead to better business decisions and provide companies greater regulatory certainty and efficiency that may enhance your ability to attract investors. Emerging industries, in particular, need to find locations to operate that minimize conflicts with other users.

Where do whale migration routes intersect with shipping lanes?  How will a possible wind farm location impact a local port? These are questions that the maritime industry need to know to function at their best, and the National Ocean Policy aims to provide that information.

The National Ocean Policy can also present new opportunities by reducing operational costs. For example, ports need to dredge for ships to travel safely. At the same time, sediment is needed for habitat restoration projects. Instead of incurring costs to dispose of dredged material while paying for restoration material, coordinated planning could address both of these needs with a win-win solution.

As Kathleen Broadwater, Deputy Executive Director of the Maryland Port Administration, noted in a briefing held last year on the coastal economy, deep-water seaports serve as the poster child of coastal zone management in its effort to seek balance between ecological protection and economic development, and exhibit the value of coordinated management to maintain the nation’s economic vitality.

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Air Traffic Control for the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/16/air-traffic-control-for-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/16/air-traffic-control-for-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 16 Nov 2012 18:57:49 +0000 Susan Olcott http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3562

Map of sensitive habitats off the coast of New England. Click for a larger version.

At a given time, our air is filled with thousands of planes intersecting each other’s flight paths in a coordinated fashion. The same is true for our ocean and its industries – and a new map shows just that. The New England Ocean Action Network (NEOAN), a group of organizations supportive of ocean planning, created the map to illustrate just how many different activities occur in the ocean – ferry routes, shipping lanes, sanctuary boundaries, fishing grounds, whale habitat and proposed wind energy areas, to name a few. Imagine trying to coordinate these uses so that they don’t all end up on top of each other or harm to the ecosystem on which they depend.

This coordination is one of the goals of the National Ocean Policy. Each of nine regions around the country will establish a Regional Planning Body (RPB), comprised of representatives from state and federal agencies, tribal members and the regional fishery management council. These regional groups will be guided by local stakeholders and the public and will work to create a plan to guide the various uses of the oceans for its member states. The New England RPB will be holding its first meeting next week – the first official meeting of any around the country – to begin the creation of a plan for its coasts and oceans.

Mapping the uses and resources in a region is an enormous task in and of itself. To create the most thorough picture, input from those who use the oceans and know them best is essential. To that end, the RPBs will not only be filling in the maps, so to speak, but will work with a variety of people who care about the ocean for different reasons from recreation to storm protection to jobs.

New England is ahead of the game in many respects – two of its states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, already have plans for their state waters. They have also begun coordinating across state boundaries to identify potential wind energy areas in both state and federal waters. The states created maps that allow planners to overlay things like areas of sensitive habitat and areas of high wind energy in order to avoid siting new developments in ways that would damage ecological resources. Now we need to create a regional ocean atlas that can do the same for all New England waters.

Given the variety of ocean uses in New England, along with new developments, such as renewable energy, it is not surprising that it is the first region to kick off the regional planning process. Much work lies ahead and the evolution of maps like these should become decision tools used to ensure a sustainable future for all our ocean resources.

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