Sunday, December 13, 2009

Will NOAA’s Bureaucracy Delay OTEC a Decade or More?

Our most recent post said we pass on rumors – even rumors of rumors – here at Hawaii Energy Options. There’s no city, news or managing editor looking over our shoulder, so it’s all fair game, far as we can tell, as long as we adhere to some objectivity standards.

That said, here’s what we’ve heard within the past 48 hours:

NOAA is so gummed up with bureaucratic inertia due to the “shell shock” it feels over the enormity of ocean thermal energy conversion that it will demand five years of operating data from even a pilot plant before giving OTEC its regulatory blessing.

Five years to build a plant, then five years of data gathering could effectively scare off investors unwilling to sit in a waiting game before OTEC could be meaningfully rolled out in Hawaii or anywhere else to counter our oil dependence.

“OTEC is on a scale so much larger than anything we’ve dealt with before,” a visiting NOAA official said last month. That seems like a tell-tale insight into the problem – if there indeed is a problem as was related to us.

When the NOAA slow-down was mentioned to an in-the-know official, he responded: “I have heard a bit about NOAA being potentially a barrier, but nothing substantial.“

Whether substantial or not, the issue of NOAA’s potentially go-slow stance has been suggegsted, so we raise it here. The issue is potentially too serious to let lie, so the question needs asking:

Is NOAA going to be an impediment to OTEC development due to an overly conservative regulatory environment? And if that’s the case, what can be done about it?

January 6 Update: Dr. Luis Vega comments on this post.

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