California Ocean Protection Council Meeting

On August 11, I had a chance to attend the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) meeting in Sacramento.  The OPC was created, pursuant to the California Ocean Protection Act (COPA), to coordinate among agencies to solve issues facing coastal oceans. Basically, the OPC helps to break down the silos of government and to use innovative tools to tackle some of California’s toughest ocean and coastal problems.

OPC meetings, which are open to the public and webcast, are held quarterly and include a spotlight on science; this meeting focused on renewable energy.  I was especially interested to see how members of the OPC, the California Ocean Science Trust (OST), and the public interact to approach issues facing our coast and ocean.  Though my background is based more in science than policy, I worked with fishermen in Mexico and often presented my scientific findings in a similar forum.  The fishing cooperatives that I worked with in Southern Baja California Sur are all part of a larger cooperative system called FEDECOOP and each cooperative has regular meetings called assembleas where scientific information is presented, fishing policies are discussed, and decisions are made much like the OPC meetings.

This meeting’s spotlight on science focused on renewable energy and featured Dr. William O’Reilly, Senior Development Engineer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Margaret Caldwell, Executive Director for Center for Ocean Solutions, who talked about the scientific and logistical needs for coastal and marine spatial planning in order to reduce conflicts surrounding existing and emerging ocean uses such as renewable offshore energy.

Dr. O’Reilly started off with a good nuts and bolts overview of different types of energy available: tidal, wave, current and wind.  I was really interested to hear there are many areas in California that are suitable for renewable energy development and it should be possible to balance the spatial needs of recreational and other ocean uses with the those of renewable energy.  Did you know that because the mass of water is about 750 times greater than that of air, the tidal energy moving through San Francisco Bay on an average day is equivalent to wind energy generated by a hurricane?  Dr. O’Reilly noted that, though it is complex to determine the potential of renewable energy sources, there is likely a lot of unharnessed energy off our shore and most importantly much of that energy is located in state rather than federal waters.  I found his report to be very optimistic about the potential for renewable offshore energy production in California.

An example of a tidal energy turbine

Meg Caldwell then gave insight into the types of data and information necessary for planning for multiple ocean uses such as renewable offshore energy.  I was pleased to hear her highlight the utility of well organized, visualized, and layered geospatial data not only to inform decision making about renewable energy, but for all ocean uses and potential projects.  Caldwell explained that a system to organize these data would: provide tools to more easily implement laws and regulations, identify user conflicts, plan and permit in an efficient manner, and improve governance and transparency.  Caldwell wrapped up by pointing out the OPC can contribute by coordinating and implementing a geospatial information system by capitalizing on California OST and other scientists and experts.  This called to mind the Regional Data Network project spearheaded by the West Coast Governors’ Agreement to establish a data sharing network to improve cross boundary access to geospatial data across the west coast. This network could help connect science to stakeholders much like OPC meetings and the assembleas share science with the public and help inform decision making, as well as sharing information and lessons learned from others’ experiences.

Here is an example of geospatial data associated with a renewable energy site taken from the OR marine map website

It’s great to think we can build on ongoing efforts in other states including Rhode Island and Massachusetts when it comes to how and where to plan for renewable energy projects and other ocean uses.  I hope that meetings like these can help to solidify the thinking process and the types of information needed to move implementation of renewable energy into the forefront not just in California, but across the entire west coast in a manner that is efficient, reduces ecosystem and user conflicts, and offsets substantial portion of our current energy use.  This effort in California can especially learn from and build upon significant efforts already in progress in Oregon and Washington.