As the nation clamors for new renewable energy sources, hydrokinetic technologies—including wave, current, tidal, and in-stream energy technologies—offer promising additions to the grid. Placing new technologies in ocean and tidal environments, which contain vast, sometimes sensitive resources but are, surprisingly, relatively unstudied, presents a challenge to agencies and developers alike as the industry strives to move through initial project-permitting stages in an efficient but environmentally responsible manner.
“Adaptive management” approaches can allow projects to be permitted and installed while providing agencies and other stakeholders the opportunity to verify their anticipated impacts. Moreover, where actual impacts exceed expectations, an adaptive management approach allows agencies to address such impacts consistent with existing regulatory standards intended to protect marine resources.
Adaptive management is not a new concept; whether called “adaptive management” or not, the practice of studying something and making changes to address identified problems is a logical concept that we naturally apply in many permitting schemes. As applied to initial ocean and tidal energy projects, however, the particular challenge is that adaptive management schemes may need to contain fewer specific contingency plans—fewer “if X, then Y” scenarios—than agencies, in particular, may be used to having. This article considers that challenge and describes an approach to adaptive management intended address those concerns.
As the hydrokinetics industry moves from demonstration projects to commercial build-out, the knowledge gained in initial project stages will help mitigate the uncertainty that exists today. Ultimately, as agencies and other stakeholders better understand the positive and negative impacts of placing hydrokinetic devices in marine environments, adaptive management plans should evolve from open-ended processes toward more prescriptive, contingency-based plans. And just as agencies and other stakeholders gain more certainty, this trend toward more specific contingency planning will provide the necessary certainty to support long-term investments in this industry.
This article attempts to define adaptive management for our purposes. It then discusses the components of adaptive management that are necessary to make such schemes viable for initial ocean and tidal energy projects, including that such schemes be project-specific, adopted at the developer’s election, and guided by standards articulated in laws that already exist to protect ocean and tidal resources. Finally, this article confirms that adaptive management is allowable under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and describes how analyses under NEPA should address such schemes.