Ambition to create jobs and economic growth from the vast open spaces of the oceans and seas is made real by new and developing technologies. In the 2010s, renewable energy generated from wind, wave and tide is laying claim to large areas of marine space and driving the search to find new ways to manage ocean and coastal development. Many more activities are expected and precedents are currently being set for the future of marine governance. Several observers have drawn parallels with the development of offshore oil and gas in the 1970s, which also represented a step change in use of the seas and coasts. The change was particularly felt in the Orkney and Shetland archipelagos, at the centre of the North Sea oilfields. Special powers were granted to the county councils here to control development and share in its benefits. This paper compares the oil and renewables industries, separated in time by nearly 40 years, and their influence on adjacent communities. The similarities and differences are identified to test the hypothesis that the 1970s oil model of local participation could be repeated for the development of marine renewables in the 2010s. The conclusion is that the model could well be applied but that the political and policy drivers of today make it unlikely, at least for the time being. Most notably, the change in the role of the public and private sectors and the use of market instruments to achieve national objectives tend to favour a climate of central control.