Wednesday, June 20, 2007

House Science Committee Approves Wave Energy R&D Bill

Wave energy legislation that would invest approximately $200 million in federal funds to advance research and development of wave energy technologies over the next four years. Would fund national wave energy research center, likely in Oregon.


The U.S. House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee has approved, by voice vote, renewable energy legislation that would invest approximately $200 million in federal funds to advance research and development of wave energy technologies over the next four years.

The Marine Renewable Energy Research and Development Act of 2007 (H.R. 2313 [PDF]) would authorize $50 million for each of the fiscal years 2008 through 2012 for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to award grants to advance research, development, demonstration and commercial application of ocean energy.

Federal support for innovative research to develop new energy technologies is critical to encourage private sector investments and to reduce the financial risk associated with making renewable energies commercially viable.

"America has the tools, expertise and ingenuity to harness the untapped energy found just off our shores," said Representative Darlene Hooley (D-OR), a member of the House Science and Technology Committee and author of H.R. 2313. "Similar to how we helped the wind energy industry get off the ground by providing production tax credits, Congress today made the first significant investment in what is projected to be a promising nonpolluting energy source."

During the past 30 years, the DOE and its industry partners have contributed to technological improvements that reduced the cost of wind energy production by more than 80 percent, resulted in more than 235 solar energy patents, and created 106 biorefineries to supply oil refineries with ethanol to oxygenate gasoline. Similarly, with the passage of this legislation, the DOE is expected to help reduce the barriers for commercial wave energy production.

Last month, the Science Committee heard testimony from Annette von Jouanne, a professor of power electronics and energy systems in the Oregon State University, College of Engineering. Von Joanne, who was invited to speak by Congresswoman Hooley, outlined the technological obstacles that have to be overcome in order to commercialize wave energy, the ways that streamlined permitting and agency cooperation could help, and the need for more environmental and ecological studies.

"Things are really picking up speed now," said von Jouanne last month. "The public, political and agency leaders are understanding how electricity produced by waves could be a significant contributor to our energy portfolio, and people are beginning to see the value of a focused, national center to move research forward."

Wave energy, thought to be more available and more predictable than other forms of renewable energy, provides higher energy densities, with scientists estimating that only 0.2% of the ocean's total wave energy would be necessary to provide sufficient power for the entire world.

"To meet the nation's rising demand for energy, reduce our economic and national security vulnerability to crude oil supply disruptions, and minimize adverse environmental effects, Congress is stimulating the development of a diversified energy portfolio by funding R&D projects that set to explore advanced renewable energy technologies," noted Hooley.

H.R. 2313 now heads to the full House for further consideration. Hooley will advocate for its inclusion in a larger, comprehensive Energy Independence package that is expected to be considered by the House in July.

The new bill calls for the establishment of one or more national wave energy research centers. At least one of them must be chosen " from among sites that host an existing marine renewable energy research and development program in coordination with a public university engineering program."

Translation: the center must be located at Oregon State University, the only public university engineering program with an existing marine energy R&D program out there.

OSU, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and Oregon's congressional delegation have been pushing for federal funds to establish a federal wave energy research center since last year as part of their effort to establish Oregon as the North American center of the nascent wave energy industry (see previous post).

[Image credit: Oregon State University]

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