Definition: Projects that generate electricity from waves or directly from the flow of water in ocean currents, tides, or inland waterways.


Anyone seeking to study the development of a hydrokinetic project at an identified site should first seek a preliminary permit.

  • Preliminary permits are issued for up to four years.
  • These permits do not authorize construction. Rather, they give the developer priority to study a project at the specified site for the duration of the permit. This is otherwise known as "guaranteed first-to-file status."
  • Once the preliminary permit has been granted, the permittee must submit reports containing specific information (example of preliminary permit):
    • A schedule of activities and target dates, and
    • Periodic reports on the status of its studies 

To apply for a license to construct and operate a hydrokinetic electric generation facility for up to 30 - 50 years, use one of three licensing processes.

Eligible developers interested in a short-term license to test new technologies may use the Hydrokinetic Pilot Project Licensing Process.

Timeline of Commission Actions Related to Hydrokinetics




  • January 23, 2012 - FERC Issues First Pilot License for Tidal Power Project in New York


  • May 18, 2010 - FERC, California sign agreement to coordinate hydrokinetic project development MOU
  • March 23, 2010 - FERC issued a declaratory order that determined that Maine Maritime Academy's proposal to deploy and test hydrokinetic devices as part of its Tidal Demonstration and Energy Center did not require a license. A license is not required based on the experimental nature of the technology; the operation of the facilities for short periods of time for the purpose of providing an educational experience for students to develop skills in deploying, retrieving, maintaining, and repairing hydrokinetic devices; and Maine Maritime Academy not delivering power into, or displacing power from, the interstate electric power grid.


  • August 18, 2009 - FERC, Maine sign Memorandum of Understanding for Tidal Energy Projects MOU.
  • August 4, 2009 - FERC, Department of the Interior issue guidance document on Outer Continental Shelf hydrokinetics development.
  • June 4, 2009 - FERC, Washington sign MOU for Hydrokinetic Energy Projects MOU.
  • April 9, 2009 - Secretary Salazar, FERC Chairman Wellinghoff sign agreement to spur renewable energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf MOU.
  • March 17, 2009 - Interior and FERC Announce Agreement on Offshore Renewable Energy Development.



  • December 20, 2007 - FERC issued its first license for a hydrokinetic energy project, for a small wave energy proposal in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington State. The license, for the Makah Bay Offshore Wave Pilot Project, included mitigation measures to protect the environment. The five-year FERC license was conditioned upon Finavera obtaining all necessary authorizations required by federal law before beginning construction. Finavera obtained those authorizations, but subsequently chose not to construct the project and surrendered the license (Docket No. P-12751-000).
  • November 30, 2007 - FERC issued a policy statement that allows the Commission to issue conditioned licenses for hydrokinetic energy projects under appropriate circumstances. This process is for hydrokinetic projects only. The Commission may issue a project license where it has completed processing an application while other authorizations under federal law remain outstanding. Licenses issued under these circumstances would preclude the developer from starting construction until the licensee has obtained all necessary authorizations required by federal law and filed those with the Commission (Docket No. PL08-1-000).
  • October 2, 2007 - Commissioner Moeller, accompanied by Commissioner Wellinghoff and staff, hosted a workshop on the proposed process for hydrokinetic pilot projects. Staff described the proposal and panelist and audience members provided comment. The workshop was followed by a 30-day period for filing written comments (Docket No. AD07-14-000).
  • July 19, 2007 - FERC announced that it is developing a licensing process for hydrokinetic pilot projects within existing statutes that can be completed in as few as six months, which provides for FERC oversight and agency input and may lead to a short-term license that allows developers to generate while testing. FERC also announced it will convene a workshop on licensing pilot projects for hydrokinetic technologies to discuss a staff proposal for a process that could complete licensing in as few as six months.
  • February 16, 2007 - FERC issued its first preliminary permit using the "strict scrutiny" approach to Reedsport OPT Wave Park for the proposed 50-megawatt Reedsport OPT Wave Project (Docket No. P-12713-000).
  • February 15, 2007 - FERC issued a Notice of Inquiry and Interim Statement of Policy seeking comments on three approaches to reviewing and issuing preliminary permits for hydrokinetic energy devices (wave, current, tidal, and instream). The three approaches were: (1) to maintain standard preliminary permit approach; (2) a strict scrutiny approach; or (3) decline to issue preliminary permits. Comments supported using the "strict scrutiny" approach (Docket No. RM07-8-000).



  • April 14, 2005 - FERC determined that Verdant Power's proposal to test the underwater turbines to determine potential impacts on the environment as well as learn more about the performance of the technology underpinning the company's proposed Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Hydropower Project did not require a license. A license is not required if: (1) the technology is experimental; (2) the proposed facilities are to be utilized for a short period for the purpose of conducting studies necessary to prepare a license application; and (3) power generated from the test project will not be transmitted into, or displace power from, the national energy grid (Docket No. P-12178-001)


  • February 28, 2003 - FERC upheld jurisdictional findings concerning the Makah Bay Ocean Wave Energy Pilot Project concluding that; the Federal Power Act definition of navigable waters is not confined to streams and rivers; since 1988 the United States has asserted jurisdiction over waters up to 12 nautical miles offshore; and structures that contain equipment for the generation of electric power are powerhouses for the purposes of Section 23(b)(1) of the Federal Power Act (Docket No. DI02-3-001).


  • October 3, 2002 - FERC determined that the Makah Bay Ocean Wave Energy Pilot Power Plant would be required to obtain a license because it would: and be located on a navigable waterway as defined by Section 3(8) of the Federal Power Act; and be located on a Commerce Clause waterway, entail post-1935 construction, and be connected to the interstate electric grid (Docket No. DI02-3-000).

This page was last updated on July 11, 2024