The top 5 overlooked energy stories

The Gulf oil spill and the Senate’s failure to pass comprehensive climate-change legislation have for good reason topped 2010’s list of top energy stories. Rather than provide another one of those lists, we here at E2 thought we’d rank the energy stories that flew under the radar.

Offshore wind:

With all of the talk about offshore drilling, offshore wind has gotten little mainstream attention. While the U.S. offshore wind industry has lagged behind other countries, the Obama administration is ramping up efforts to develop the country’s offshore wind resources.

After securing a number of key permits from the Interior Department, Massachusetts’ Cape Wind offshore wind project is slated to become the country’s first offshore wind project, though two projects in Texas are also hoping to get that honor. And last week, the Interior Department issued a “request for interest” meant to determine whether companies were willing to invest in future offshore wind development off the coast of Massachusetts.

Clashes over power lines:

The Obama administration has made it clear that it wants to expand the country’s reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar. But that requires huge investments in massive power lines necessary to bring renewable electricity from one side of the country to the other. Electric utilities have been fighting for months about who should be required to pay for those new power lines. While lawmakers have proposed a number of cost allocation schemes, the job of sorting out the mess fell last year to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission spent last year hashing out a number of contentious issues related to power-line cost allocation, and the discussion is certain to continue into 2011.

Nuclear loan guarantees:

Much to the chagrin of anti-nuclear activists, the Department of Energy issued loan guarantees totaling $8.3 billion for a proposed nuclear power plant in Georgia last year and has plans to issue more guarantees for other projects. Nuclear opponents call the guarantees a subsidy for an energy technology that is too expensive to operate without government support. But the nuclear industry says the guarantees are essential for rebuilding the U.S. nuclear industry.

President Obama has specifically mentioned nuclear energy as a potential issue of compromise in the coming year's energy talks — expect to hear more about the guarantees in 2011.

Rare earth metals:

All eyes are on China going into 2011 as the country announced it is restricting export quotas of rare-earth metals, which are essential components in wind turbines and electric vehicles. China produces 97 percent of the world’s rare-earth supply, and significant restrictions of the country’s exports could have a major effect on the United States.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is hoping to develop its own domestic supply of rare earths. Mining company Molycorp is hoping to reopen a rare-earths mine in California next year.

SEC rules on oil payment disclosure:

The Securities and Exchange Commission floated draft rules last month that would require oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. The rules are a result of a provision in the financial reform bill.

Industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, are not happy about the rules. They are calling on the SEC to apply the rules narrowly, arguing that broad application could result in confidential proprietary information getting in the hands of foreign oil companies.