Last week, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, hosted the last of 4 public forums around the country to gather input on offshore drilling and offshore renewable energy development. Choosing to end in San Francisco means he is going back to Washington with a resounding “No” in his ears. “No” to offshore drilling and “Yes” to investing in renewable energy, and any other new green technology San Francisco start-ups can figure out.
All the California elected officials on the dais (Boxer, Lee, Speire, Napolitano, Woolsey, Lt Governor Garamendi) and Oregon governor Kulongoski made very clear, and sometimes even passionate, that CA needs and values its coastline the way it is, and the potential output of oil (estimated 1% of US daily consumption by 2030) comes no where near to justifying the risk posed to its economy and ecosystem.
Such unanimous state-wide opposition seems likely to deter the federal government from moving forward with these leases, if they were thinking about doing that in CA in the first place. The more interesting part of the conversation was about renewable energy. As in any political conversation, specific commitments were hard to find, but the interest was clear, and that bodes well for companies in this sector.
Secretary Salazar was intent on hearing the details for what might really work. With both the elected officials and the public making comment he pushed for more specific data regarding the viability of different renewable energy projects, particularly the time frame in which they could be contributing to the larger grid. Politicians are good at not being pinned down, and none of these would commit to a time frame, but various business owners in the audience did.
One principal of an offshore wind platform company said their first installation will be in Portugal in 2010, finished in a few years and will generate 150 Megawatts of energy. They will have a project in Oregon within about 5 years, and sited 13 miles offshore, so people can still have their ocean views. That seems like a good investment as opposed to getting 1% of our oil by 2030.
While the majority of the conversation was about offshore renewables, primarily wind, biofuels, in the form of oil produced from algae, were mentioned a few times, and solar was also on the secretary’s mind. He sent a message to Governor Schwarzenegger through the governor’s rep that CA needs to be a partner with the federal government in helping to determine where onshore renewables could most effectively go and help to “fast forward” the project.
What the department’s final conclusion on these offshore leases will be is not certain, but should be announced by the Fall.
And it is important to remember just how regional this issue is. This was clear talking with some of Salazar’s staff and the secretary himself about the responses from each forum. The Atlantic region is all about offshore wind because that ocean is shallower and so it is easier to install wind turbines far out at sea. The Gulf of Mexico region wants as much drilling as they can get since they are already used to, and feel their economy is dependent on, the oil industry. As mentioned at the beginning the Western region is fully against drilling. That leaves Alaska – for this conversation complex and distinctive enough to be its own region – and it turns out to have given a complex, not yet fully understood response to this issue too.
You can download a survey of available data on the outer continental shelf resources, and our data gaps, from the Dept of the Interior. They will be using that report and input from these forums in their decision making.
In the meanwhile, another big announcement is expected next week from the Dept of the Interior, not sure what about, but it’s on Earth Day, so I’m assuming it is not the removal of certain animals from the Endangered Species list.