The existing regulatory regime for offshore renewable energy is complex and varies significantly depending upon the source of energy harnessed. Several federal agencies bear responsibility in the offshore renewable energy permitting process. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service authority to issue easements, leases, and rights-of-way on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf for renewable energy projects. In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are engaged in the permitting system, in light of their respective authorities under the Federal Power Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act.
Because coastal states have authority over submerged waters up to three nautical miles (nm) from shore, the success of any offshore renewable energy project may hinge on state approvals of transmission lines and Coastal Zone Management Act consistency determinations. This regulatory primer is designed to serve as an introduction to the major federal laws and regulations governing renewable energy development offshore and coastal state authority under those laws. The primer also discusses local concerns about offshore renewable energy projects and marine spatial planning, a possible emerging solution, to provide a backdrop to controversy surrounding these types of projects. As this is a developing area of the law, readers are encouraged to visit the agency websites listed in the resources sections of each chapter for the most up-to-date information about the regulatory process.