Legislation introduced last week by members of the House of Representatives and the Senate could spur development of U.S. marine and hydrokinetic energy resources—a sector in which the U.S. has lagged behind other countries.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wa.) introduced the Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2009 in the House, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) proposed a related bill in the Senate. The act and a companion tax provision would provide $250 million to expand federal research of marine energy; take over the cost verification of new wave, current, tidal, and thermal ocean energy devices; create an adaptive management fund to help pay for the demonstration and deployment of such electric projects; and provide a key additional tax incentive.

“Other countries have provided far more funding and incentives than the U.S. to support ocean renewable energy development,” said Sean O’Neill, president of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition (OREC). “Consequently, the federal government needs to enhance our competitive position and provide significant funding to support RDD&D and critical environmental studies.”
 
O’Neill said that as Congress moved forward with the proposed bills, OREC would continue to work closely with its supporters in the House and Senate to secure passage of the Marine Renewable Energy Act and lobby for additional funding for marine renewable technologies.
 
The Obama administration has voiced its support for the fledgling sector. Along with funding woes, marine energy in the U.S. had been stalled by lengthy and pricey regulatory hurdles posed by a longstanding turf war over the Outer Continental Shelf between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In April, the two agencies clarified jurisdictional responsibilities and established a process through which each would lease, license, and regulate marine, hydrokinetic, and offshore wind energy.

Sen. Murkowski, a Republican who is also a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said in a statement that it made sense to harness the power of the sun, wind, waves, and currents to make electricity. “Coming from Alaska, where there are nearly 150 communities located along the state’s 34,000 miles of coastline plus dozens more on major river systems, it’s clear that perfecting marine energy could be of immense benefit to the nation,” she said.

The bills are a follow-up to efforts by Murkowski in 2005 and 2007 to promote ocean energy. In those years, she sponsored successful provisions to allow ocean hydrokinetic energy to qualify for the federal purchase requirement and the federal production incentive in 2005. She also helped author provisions for more research funding and an ocean energy demonstration center in 2007.
 
Though the bills are expected to spur marine energy development nationally, they are certain to benefit Murkowski’s state of Alaska, where several companies already have proposed projects to test current devices in rivers and the Cook Inlet. Projects are under consideration at Eagle, Galena, Tanana, near Anchorage, near Homer, and in the southeast.

The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that ocean resources in the U.S. could generate 252 million MWh of electricity—6.5% of America’s entire electricity generation—if ocean energy gained the same financial and research incentives currently enjoyed by other forms of renewable energy.
 
Sources: OREC, Rep. Jay Inslee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski