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Feature Article

Decision-Making on Offshore Renewable Energy Sites

By David Stein • Christine Taylor • Kitty Fahey

A data mash-up map helped the North Carolina Wind Energy Task Force see potential areas of conflict. (Credit: Anna Verrill, IMSG at the NOAA Coastal Services Center)
Of all the offshore renewable energy sources now on the table for development—wind, tides and waves—offshore wind energy has generated the greatest interest and advanced the fastest.

While the turbine blades have yet to spin at a U.S. facility, that day is getting closer. Thirty-three U.S. offshore wind projects have been announced and are in different stages of development, with nine considered to be in an advanced stage, according to Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis, a February 2013 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy.

This is exciting news for renewable energy entrepreneurs, coastal community officials, resource managers, business interests and others eager to harvest an energy resource that is vast, green and largely untapped.

But screening for the best offshore wind energy locations can be a complex undertaking. Anyone with a stake in that decision needs access to authoritative data and information on offshore boundaries, restrictions, infrastructure, human uses, energy potential and a host of other details.

Many find a helpful resource in MarineCadastre.gov, a dynamic, integrated information system with authoritative data that enables users to move beyond the static and piecemeal maps of the past. MarineCadastre.gov features a map gallery plus more than 180 ocean data layers, a data registry and national viewer, technical support and marine planning tools that connect with web map services.

Users can create and customize maps and can view and share data with planning partners across agencies and organizations, which speeds up the ability to address critical marine planning details.

A Compelling Need
MarineCadastre.gov was codeveloped by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and NOAA Coastal Services Center. Both entities had a vested interest in creating this central information system, because each serves constituents with a strong stake in offshore wind siting decisions.

The Center provides data, tools, training and technical assistance to agencies and organizations that work to protect coastal resources and keep communities safe from coastal hazards. Offshore wind siting issues are at the top of the agenda for some Center customers, such as state coastal zone managers, community planners and officials, and advocates of sustainable economic development.

BOEM has jurisdiction over renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf. One of its tasks involves working with offshore wind energy developers or state task forces to review relevant offshore data and information. The aim of this review is twofold: to screen for offshore areas with too many stakeholder conflicts and to locate sites with fewer conflicts, so that these areas can be fully investigated.

Just a small sample of the information needed during review includes data on marine protected areas, Outer Continental Shelf lease blocks, jurisdictional boundaries, vessel traffic patterns and military activities.

Before MarineCadastre.gov, no central resource held all these data sets and other essential information. Most mapped data and related information were separated by contributor, and many were in hard copy or PDF files that could not be updated or customized. Metadata records were hard to access. Additional data were often stored away in file drawers or on single-use computers. These factors made the process of locating and sharing information, expressing concerns and working together on decisions very cumbersome. To continue this article please click here.

David Stein is a geographer with NOAA's Coastal Services Center and is the co-lead for the MarineCadastre.gov project. His focus areas are coastal and ocean management, geospatial policy and GIS. David earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the College of Charleston and a master's degree in geography from East Carolina University.

Christine Taylor is the lead physical scientist in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's Mapping and Boundary Branch and is the co-lead for the MarineCadastre.gov project. She has 20-plus years of experience as a GIS professional. Christine earned a bachelor's degree in geography from Towson University and a master's degree in environmental science and planning from Johns Hopkins University.

Kitty Fahey is a technical writer with I.M. Systems Group at the NOAA Coastal Services Center. Through the Digital Coast and other initiatives, the Center supports the environmental, social and economic well-being of the coast by linking people, information and technology.

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