Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The newest idea in ocean management seems like a no-brainer. Marine spatial planning (MSP) attempts to get the most economic and ecological bang out of the ocean’s buck by mapping out zones in the ocean: oil drilling here, fishing there, surfing here, marine preserve there, like cities do land use planning.
The federal Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force’s recent call for a national ocean policy has identified MSP as a top priority. And Monterey’s Center for Ocean Solutions, which has led the field in California, is now advising the national task force. “Some places in the ocean are more valuable than others, either from an economic or ecological perspective,” says COS Law and Policy Fellow Matthew Armsby. “The idea is to think ahead of time what places are valuable for fishermen, for conservation interests, for shipping interests – so there’s less reactive decision-making where everybody gets angry and sues each other.”
It’s no surprise that groups like commercial fishermen, who already feel regulated to the brink of bankruptcy, are hesitant about MSP. Aquaculture, recreation and fossil fuel extraction could be deeply impacted by the new approach.
But another stakeholder is less obvious. As the planet’s temperature rises, so do the incentives for marine renewable energy projects. Companies are now experimenting with offshore wind, solar, biomass and thermal energy technology; propellers that generate power from the tides; and salami-like buoys that convert wave forces into electric energy.
Given the ocean’s potential to provide perpetual, pollution-free energy – and the money to be made from it – the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition wants to make sure a new bureaucracy doesn’t emerge. Although OREC doesn’t oppose MSP in principle, the trade organization fears it could stifle the marine renewables industry.
“MSP seems to mean a number of things for different people,” OREC General Counsel Carolyn Elefant says. “We’d have some concerns if it would lead to red zones and green zones, where you can put projects and where you can’t.”
California holds special promise for the industry because it offers a trifecta of good wave energy, a progressive renewables policy and high electricity rates, Elefant adds. “We have concerns that with MSP, permitting could come to a standstill.”
But Armsby says MSP is flexible enough to accommodate renewable energy. “These zones are adaptable,” he says.
With the federal task force moving forward on MSP – the interim framework is open to public comment through Feb. 12 – it may have to be marine industries that do the adapting.