United States of America

Supporting Policies for Ocean Energy


The United States has several national, regional, and local strategies and policies relevant to ocean energy. At the national level, WPTO leads research, development, demonstration, and deployment efforts for ocean and river energy. WPTO aligns itself with federal goals for ocean resource utilization and works with other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the U.S. Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC), among others, to advance federal ocean priorities. 
In November 2021 the U.S. Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a large piece of legislation that provides billions of dollars for infrastructure, clean energy, and climate change mitigation projects across the country. The legislation provides $110.4 million for ocean energy research led by WPTO, and this is in addition to the office’s annual funding. It also provides funding to support infrastructure upgrades for ports and rural coastal communities which could support future ocean energy activities. As of this writing, Congress is considering additional pieces of legislation that might also provide increased funding, including tax provisions, for ocean energy projects.
President Biden has committed to achieving a net-zero economy by 2050 and a nationally determined contribution (NDC) to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to 50-52 percent below 2005 levels in 2030. At COP26 in November 2021 the U.S. released its Long-term Strategy which outlines actions the U.S. plans to take across all key sectors that will put it on track to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.


While there are no dedicated marine renewable energy market incentives in the U.S., there are clean energy incentives which may be applicable in some regions.  These include:

  • Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs)
  • Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs)
  • Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and other voluntary renewable energy goals
  • Public Benefit Funds (PBF) 



There are several sources of public funding for ocean energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D). WPTO is the primary group covered under this country report as it provides the bulk of federal funding that supports ocean energy R&D, but this work could not be done without the help from other federal agencies and offices. For example, the Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC) actively supports R&D of various renewable energy conversion technologies, including wave energy. NAVFAC EXWC's funding efforts focus on advancing technology development to harness ocean energy resources to ensure energy security and to power U.S. Navy and Marine Corps assets both on- and off-shore. NAVFAC is funding and actively managing the Navy's Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) in Hawaii. In 2021 NAVFEC provided $6 million to the University of Hawaii at M?noa to provide research and logistical support to WETS.
Other federal offices such as the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), BOEM, NOAA, and NSF also provide funding support ocean energy research projects.
Since 2008, WPTO’s funded projects for ocean energy have been split evenly among private companies, universities, and the DOE national laboratories. The bulk of this funding to date has been allocated toward wave energy research, followed by cross-cutting RD&D that supports multiple resource types, and then current energy technologies.
Ocean energy technology developers can seek WPTO funding through several different competitive funding mechanisms. Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) are topic-specific competitive opportunities designed for industry and academia to form partnerships in conducting research and testing. Some FOAs are available to international applicants.
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are methods through which federal agencies with R&D missions set aside a fraction of their funding for competitions among small businesses to pursue early-stage research. Small businesses that win awards in these programs keep the rights to any technology developed and are encouraged to commercialize the technology. DOE also has a Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF) which leverages federal RD&D funding, paired with private partners, to mature promising energy technologies with high impact potential. Lastly, DOE administers prize competitions, which can attract new innovators and investment to specific challenge areas.

WPTO identifies and funds qualified projects within specific topics that support program objectives, depending on available funds. In evaluating all proposals for new energy developments or new adaptations of existing technology, WPTO assesses whether individual applications clearly meet the goals of the topic area and their potential to advance the industry.

Consenting processes

At the national level, there is no existing marine spatial planning policy for ocean energy.

On June 19th, 2018, the President signed Executive Order 13840 entitled “Ocean Policy to Advance the Economic, Security, and Environmental Interests of the United States”. The new EO revokes Executive Order 13547 (Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes) of 2010 and in its place, emphasizes a new ocean policy and accompanying processes to advance the economy, national security, and environmental interests of the U.S. The new ocean policy does not explicitly mention Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) or prioritize its inclusion for Federal engagement with ocean matters. State and Regional Ocean Partnerships will engage in MSP and issue marine spatial plans as decided by the individual states or through other regional mechanisms such as regional ocean partnerships.

Previously, the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, Executive Order 13457, and the Nation Ocean Policy Implementation Plan (Appendix Milestones) established and supported MSP at a regional level. The United States and its territories were divided into nine Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs). As of 2018, some RPBS have formed and are at various stages of the marine planning process (e.g. the Mid-Atlantic RPB and the Northeast). The new executive order calls for the establishment of an Ocean Policy Committee (OPC) to replace the previous structure of the RPBs and the National Ocean Council (NOC). However, the new OPC has a similar mandate to the prior NOC and specific to Marine Spatial Planning the new EO encourages the OPC to work with stakeholders, including regional ocean partnerships, to assist when matters that may require interagency or intergovernmental solutions arise.

Several states in the United State have developed and implemented their own marine plans. Some existing plans were initiated before the release of the National Ocean Policy, and in 2018 Washington State adopted a Marine Spatial Plan for their Pacific Coast; other states are considering similar actions.

Pre-selected areas for ocean energy development have not been defined on a national level, though State Task Forces led by the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have identified and set aside initial areas for the development of offshore wind. A number of states have also identified selected areas for ocean energy development (e.g. Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Oregon). Areas identified through spatial planning and pre-selected processes have typically involved collaborative processes including multiple stakeholder groups.

The authorities involved in the consenting process are:

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – It has jurisdiction over marine and hydrokinetic facilities in navigable waters that are connected to the grid;
  • The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) – It has the authority to issue leases and easements for hydrokinetic projects located partially or entirely on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS);
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) – It issues permits for any structure placed in navigable waters. It has jurisdiction over marine and hydrokinetic facilities in navigable waters that are not connected to the grid;
  • The U.S. Coast Guard (USGS) – it issues permits to mark all obstructions in navigable waters with navigation aids to ensure that projects do not interfere with established shipping lanes

Multiple other federal and state agencies are consulted during the permitting process to ensure that projects comply with a number of federal and state environmental protection statutes. These agencies include but are not limited to: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (specifically the National Marine Fisheries Service within NOAA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks Service.

This handbook is currently being updated and is scheduled to be released in late 2018. The sequential steps are dependent upon the location of the project and whether the project will be connected to the grid. FERC allows prospective developers to apply for a preliminary permit, which gives the developer first rights for the development of a specific site, but it is not required to obtain a FERC pilot or commercial license. There are five different scenarios (including best-case scenario timelines) in which different permits and licenses are necessary:

Scenario 1 – Non-grid connected pilot project in state waters – 12 months;
Scenario 2 – Grid connected pilot project in state waters – 12 months;
Scenario 3 – Commercial scale project in state waters – 4 years or more;
Scenario 4 – Any project on the OCS, non-competitive lease process – 3 years or more;
Scenario 5 – Any project on the OCS, competitive lease process – 6-8 years.

The length of the permitting process is dependent upon the type and location of the project, especially if the project is located in a sensitive area. In practice, very few MHK projects have completed the entire permitting process in the U.S., and the majority have exceeded these timeframes.

There is no single agency (“one stop shop” facility or entity) that is responsible for the entire ocean energy permitting process. FERC and BOEM are the two agencies with overarching authority over licensing and leasing activities in the U.S. The lead agency is dependent upon the location of the project and whether it will be connected to the grid. Multiple state agencies are also involved in the permitting process. For all projects located on the OCS (generally 3 nautical miles from shore to the exclusive economic zone boundary) BOEM must issue a least that allows the developer access to the site and FERC must issue a license for the project to move forward.

A National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis is always required prior to any action taken by a federal agency.

NEPA was enacted to ensure that federal agencies evaluate potential environmental impacts of any proposed action and reasonable alternatives. As a result of an initial scoping process, the project either receives a Categorical Exclusion (CX), and Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The results of the NEPA analysis and multiple consultations that occur before leases and licenses are issued are often used to generate monitoring or mitigation requirements that must be implemented as a condition of the license. The FERC pilot project guidance places large emphasis on post-deployment environmental monitoring while the standard commercial licensing process places a larger emphasis on environmental studies conducted before the license application is filed.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 directed the Department of Energy to work with the Department of the Interior and Department of Commerce to develop a program to support research and demonstration and commercial application to expand the use of marine renewable energy sources. It also allowed for the establishment of the National Marine Renewable Energy Centers. There is no regulatory authority conveyed by this Act.

FERC carries out its regulatory authority under the Federal Power Act. In 2008 FERC developed a Guidance for Pilot Project Licensing to speed up the licensing process for demonstration projects. BOEM has also developed a set of regulations governing its OCS Renewable Energy Program.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 provided guidance for federal regulation of new renewable energy technologies in general and amended the OCS Lands Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the authority to regulate the production, transportation or transmission of renewable energy on the OCS. This authority was delegated to BOEM. Essentially, the Energy Policy Act conferred regulatory authority for hydrokinetics to both FERC and the Department of the Interior (DOI), but the law did not clearly specify the scope of each agency’s jurisdiction. To remedy this, the FERC and the DOI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2009 clarifying the scope of each agency’s respective responsibilities for regulating renewable energy projects on the OCS.

Executive Order 13514 “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance” called for the increased use of renewable energy by federal agencies and aligning federal policies to increase the effectiveness of local planning for locally generated renewable energy.

Plans for changing legal and administrative frameworks to facilitate development and more integrated marine governance: The Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 proposed to amend the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. This act has been introduced to the U.S. Senate but has not received legislative or executive approval.

Consultation with various stakeholders and regulators is performed at multiple stages of the process.

Stakeholder consultation stars at the very beginning of project development, and public comment periods are incorporated into each of the regulatory stages. In order to receive a FERC license or a BOEM lease, a series of mandatory consultation are performed, usually in conjunction with the NEPA analysis.

Various reference materials are available to developers to provide additional details on the licensing process. These include FERC’s “Handbook for Hydroelectric Project Licensing”, “Hydrokinetic Pilot Project Criteria and Draft Application Checklist” provided by FERC, and the “Handbook of Hydrokinetic Regulatory Processes”.

The PacWave test site, to be built off the coast of Oregon, will generally be pre-permitted for most types of wave energy converters. However, there may still be additional regulatory processes or consultation needed prior to testing, particularly if the testing is supported by federal funds, which would require a NEPA analysis. Data collected at the site could also be shared to help accelerate the process for permitting in general.

The OES is organised under the auspices of the International Energy Agency (IEA) but is functionally and legally autonomous. Views, findings and publications of the OES do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IEA Secretariat or its individual member countries.