Report to Congress on the Potential Environmental Effects of Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Technologies

Prepared by: U.S. Department of Energy

Section 633(b) of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) called for a report to be provided to Congress that would address (1) the potential environmental impacts of marine and hydrokinetic energy technologies, (2) options to prevent adverse environmental impacts, (3) the potential role of monitoring and adaptive management, and (4) the necessary components of an adaptive management program.  As few marine and hydrokinetic devices have been deployed, there have been correspondingly few opportunities to assess their direct impacts. Based on the available information, however, as well as the observed impacts of other activities that may share some characteristics with the deployment and operation of marine and hydrokinetic technologies, this report describes nine types of environmental effects that may occur and describes how monitoring and adaptive management principles might be employed to evaluate and mitigate those effects.  There is no conclusive evidence that marine and hydrokinetic technologies will actually cause significant environmental impacts, and the possible effects detailed in this report should serve to highlight areas where further information and research is needed.

This Report to Congress was prepared based on peer-reviewed literature, project documents, and both U.S. and international environmental assessments of these new technologies. The information was supplemented by contributions from technology developers and experts in state resource and regulatory agencies as well as non-governmental organizations. Inputs and reviews were also provided by Federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

This report focuses on potential impacts of marine and hydrokinetic technologies to aquatic environments (i.e., rivers, estuaries, and oceans), fish and fish habitats, ecological relationships, and other marine and freshwater aquatic resources.  The report does not address impacts to terrestrial ecosystems and organisms that are common to other electricity-generating technologies (e.g., construction and maintenance of transmission lines) or possible effects on the human environment, including:

  • human use conflicts
  • aesthetics
  • viewsheds
  • noise in the terrestial environment
  • light
  • recreation
  • transportation
  • navigation
  • cultural resources
  • socioeconomic impacts

The cultural and socioeconomic effects of these technologies on coastal communities and other users of rivers and oceans would need to be evaluated to fully understand the range of impacts associated with deploying marine and hydrokinetic technologies on the environment and to take advantage of opportunities for mitigation. The impacts could be addressed more fully in separate, focused reports.

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