The federal government is investing millions of dollars to harness energy from ocean waves and tides as energy demands continue to grow. (In 2013, it spent $16 million on 17 tidal projects.) It’s also investing money to research how these tidal energy projects may be developed responsibly and sustainably. Some of that research is coming out of Brown University.
Environmental scientist Heather Leslie found not all of the environmental impact assessments required for these projects consider the full impacts. Leslie reviewed 36 research papers on tidal power and only a handful of them consider the full range of impacts the tidal energy infrastructure would have on the environment and the economy.
“By thinking about the full range of ways that people benefit from and value marine environments, that’s a way to think more comprehensively about how to monitor tidal energy projects and also to consider what their effects will be at different stages of development," said Leslie. "So things like biodiversity, tourism and recreation, fisheries, and other sources of food provision—these are the types of benefits provided by ocean ecosystems that we want to have in mind when we are developing ocean energy resources."
Leslie said approaching projects with these considerations before and after placing the energy infrastructure is also a valuable framework to evaluate other types of energy development projects, not just in the ocean, but also on land.
To illustrate this framework, Leslie examined the Muskegat Channel Tidal Energy Project, which is planned for a site south of Cape Cod, between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The most important benefits she identified in this case study were biodiversity, tourism and recreation, and sources of food.
Leslie’s project was part of a larger team at Brown exploring novel ways to harness energy from tides. The U.S. Department of Energy supported this research, as part of the federal government’s commitment to develop sources of renewable energy sustainably.
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