Public Law 96-320, the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Act of 1980, was enacted on August 3, 1980. The Act sets as its primary goal the establishment of a legal regime which will permit and encourage the development of ocean thermal energy conversion as a commercial energy technology. This goal is to be achieved while providing for protection of the oceanic and coastal environments where OTEC facilities are to be sited and while giving due consideration to preventing or minimizing adverse impacts on other users of the ocean.
Among the provisions of this law is a requirement, in Section 107, that the Administrator of NOAA, ". . . . initiate a program to assess the effects on the environment of ocean thermal energy conversion facilities and plantships." The law further requires (Sect. 107(c)) that The Administrator prepare a plan to carry out this program.
The Administrator has delegated NOAA's responsibilities under P.L. 96-320 to the Office of Ocean Minerals and Energy which, among other activities, has developed the plan, as presented in this document. It is a generic plan regarding the environmental effects of OTEC development and thus extends beyond NOAA's purview. The NOAA part of the plan is discussed in Chapter 3.
The Plan has the primary objective of obtaining the environmental information and knowledge required to allow the commercial development of OTEC to the maximum extent that is compatible with acceptable environmental risk. Such development would provide a solar-based renewable energy source that, in certain areas, can replace energy generated by burning imported and other nonrenewable fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas.
The development of OTEC will become viable earlier in U.S. tropical and subtropical island communities than on the mainland because OTEC-produced electricity will be cost competitive in those areas sooner. Electricity costs range from two to eight times higher in island communities which are almost totally dependent on imported oil. In addition, many island communities require fresh water, which is a direct beneficial byproduct of open cycle OTEC plants and could be a product of a closed cycle plant if the power was utilized for desalination. As OTEC designs are improved and conventional power costs continue to increase, OTEC power is expected to become cost-competitive in certain mainland areas also.