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January 2014 Issue

Harnessing Hydropower As a new Energy Source

By Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
I've said before that hydro is back. Marine hydropower is like 'Hydro 2.0,' energy found in ocean waves, currents and tides, and in the free-flowing water in rivers, lakes and streams that holds the potential to one day power millions of homes across the United States. It's a clean, home-grown, emissions-free source of electricity that can improve the security and reliability of the country's electric grid. And it's worth the investment.

Even as other countries begin constructing projects to take advantage of this energy source, the United States has yet to get serious about investing in the various forms of clean, renewable energy collectively called marine and hydrokinetic power. This resource holds an enormous amount of potential, if only we can unlock it.

To tap into this abundant existing resource, I introduced the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 (S. 1419), along with my Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee colleague Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

This bipartisan bill will help commercialize new energy technologies by investing in research and development, while being sensitive to marine habitats and ocean users, including those in the fishing industry. Increased federal support will accelerate deployment of these technologies, create thousands of high-paying jobs, give confidence to investors and help attract private capital.

The bill establishes a more efficient and timely regulatory process for the citing of pilot projects intended to demonstrate the viability of these technologies. It reauthorizes the Energy Department's marine hydrokinetic research, development and demonstration programs, including the National Marine Renewable Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Centers. It also designates the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency to coordinate environmental reviews and sets a goal of licensing pilot programs in one year or less.

Our goal is to establish a commercially viable U.S. marine and hydrokinetic energy industry, supported by a robust domestic supply chain for fabrication, installation, operations and maintenance of related devices. The development of such a substantial industry in the U.S. could drive billions of dollars of investment in heavy industrial and maritime sectors, as well as in advanced electrical systems and materials common to many renewable technologies. Federal investments would stimulate private funds and jobs in construction, manufacturing, engineering and environmental science.

I'm thrilled that my home state of Oregon is positioning itself to be an international leader in the commercialization of the marine renewable energy industry, with the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, led by the Oregon Wave Energy Trust. It's cutting edge research like theirs that will encourage public-private partnerships to capture the rich energy potential of our oceans.

For example, the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that the commercially available wave energy potential off the coasts of the United States is roughly 252 million megawatt-hours—equal to 6.5 percent of today's entire generating portfolio. That's about the same amount of electricity produced by the existing fleet of conventional hydroelectric dams in America.

Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal and Australia, are already committed to producing emissions-free, renewable energy from marine hydrokinetic sources. Scotland recently propelled itself into the mix by approving an 86-megawatt submerged tidal turbine project—the largest tidal energy project in Europe.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is falling behind in the race to capture the rich energy potential of our oceans and the jobs that will come with this new industry. Limited private sector funding, permitting roadblocks and regulatory red tape often hold these projects up before they even get started.

Investing in research, development and demonstration today will pay great dividends in the future. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I will continue to work to get the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act passed. This bipartisan bill will help get projects in the water and move us one step closer to making our country a leader in this promising new energy source.

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.