By Michael Feeley and Aron Potash

A lawsuit which delayed and once threatened to dismantle California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) cap and trade scheme was largely resolved last week, removing one roadblock to California’s plan to be the first state to impose an economy-wide GHG trading program.  Under modified regulations adopted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on October 20, 2011, California will require certain emitters of GHGs to obtain allowances or offsets in amounts commensurate to their respective emissions

The Army Corps of Engineers recently proposed to reissue the existing NWPs (PDF) authorizing the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States for specified projects.  For those projects, NWPs can take the place of individual permits (PDF) under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.  Obtaining permit coverage through an NWP is generally quicker and less expensive than obtaining an individual 404 permit—so, for projects that fall within their scope, these NWPs have the potential to streamline one part of the approval process.  

Importantly for renewable energy developers, the Army Corps also proposes to issue two new NWPs—NWP A, for land-based renewable energy generation facilities and NWP B for water-based renewable energy generation pilot projects. 

Eight Years.  That’s how long it took what will likely be the nation’s first offshore wind farm to obtain a federal lease.  It is little wonder, in light of Cape Wind’s struggle, that wind advocates have been pushing for greater federal support.  Earlier this week, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of the Interior continued efforts to answer that call, jointly announcing the release of “A National Offshore Wind Strategy” aimed at developing the tremendous wind resources off the nation’s coastlines.  This interagency effort is backed by 50.5 million dollars in DOE funding to support research and development of offshore wind installations.

The nation’s potential for offshore wind power is impressive: according to DOE, wind resources off the U.S. coastline (including the Great Lakes) could theoretically produce an estimated 4,150 gigawatts (GW) of energy—more than four times the current generating capacity of nation’s electrical system.   As the new strategy recognizes, however, the difference between theory and reality is significant.  Currently, offshore wind farms have considerably higher capital costs than land-based installations, due in part to increased equipment, installation, interconnection, and infrastructure costs.  For example, existing installation and maintenance procedures involve the use of specialized vessels that simply do not exist in the U.S.

Further, as a new industry, offshore wind faces unique and novel permitting challenges.  Multiple state and federal agencies have jurisdiction over the development of offshore wind farms.  In the case of the Great Lakes, for example, DOE notes that eight states and a Canadian province claim jurisdiction—with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serving as the “lead agency” for purposes of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).  Adding to the complexity is the relative lack of data regarding the environmental and social effects of offshore wind installations.