Can Environmental Assessments Add Value?

Ocean WavesThis topic is a bit off the normal path for Plannovation, but I wanted to highlight some interesting research done by Peter Havens, Charles Morgan, and Donald MacDonald on environmental planning for new ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) projects.

Now I know next to nothing about OTEC projects, but I was struck by a unique perspective that the researchers brought to the topic of environmental impact assessments. That is, the researchers started with the perspective that environmental impact assessments can be “a value add” to projects as opposed to “red tape” or “overhead costs.” Coming at it from the perspective, they recommend a “structure for assessing potential environmental impacts concurrently with design.”

Below are additional materials if you’re interested in reading more about OTEC projects and the recommendations for environmental planning for these projects.

Environmental Planning for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Pilot Projects

Peter W. Havens, CEP, Sound & Sea Technology, Inc.
Charles Morgan, PhD, Planning Solutions, Inc.
Donald A. MacDonald, NOAA National Ocean Service

Ocean thermal energy conversion is the hydropower technology of converting the temperature differential between tropical ocean surface and deep waters into electricity.  The Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Act was signed into law in 1980, assigning a leadership and oversight role to NOAA.  In 1981 NOAA promulgated regulations for the licensing of a commercial OTEC facility; interest in this technology waned and the regulations were rescinded in the 1990s.  The high costs of hydrocarbon fuels and global environmental concerns have awakened a new focus on OTEC and other renewable energy technologies that do not emit CO2.  This new focus brings a need for new licensing regulations.  We also need reliable value-added environmental impact procedures, not only to comply with new licensing regulations, but also to support OTEC Pilot Project design and implementation.

Impact analysis studies and field surveys completed in the 1970s and 80s provide a sound basis for the evaluation of potential environmental effects and causes, with a focus on the obvious, first order sources of potential impacts of OTEC.  These issues include the intake, transport and discharge of large quantities of seawater, occupying an ocean location with a large industrial platform anchored to the bottom and power transmission via subsea cabling to suitable shore locations.  Current plans for satisfying the requirements of modern impact analysis and permitting include the development of new computer simulations of intakes and discharges, laboratory testing of candidate intake designs, multi-year field surveys using modern oceanographic tools, and extensive monitoring of demonstration plant operations.

A pro-active approach to environmental planning can effectively and efficiently support OTEC technology development with progressively addressing adverse impact management early when design is flexible.  This approach creates a structure for assessing potential environmental impacts concurrently with design.  The structure provides for a systematic flagging of potentially conflicting environmental and design requirements.  Conflict resolution at this stage of early planning and design involves understanding environmental impact cause and effect relationships, partnering with design teams and resolving potential design-environmental conflicts.

Progressive environmental impact management will generate project-specific baseline information that can be used to complete environmental compliance procedures required before project implementation.  The anticipated result is a sustainable OTEC supported with effective and efficient environmental impact management.

Presented at the OCEANS 2010 Conference, jointly sponsored by the Marine Technology Society (MTS) and the Oceanic Engineering Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE/OES), September 20-23, 2010, Seattle, Washington (

Your thoughts? Do environmental assessments add value to the projects? Can the perspective of the industry be changed from perceiving environmental assessments as “a hold up” or “red tape”?

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