July 13, 2011 - US Senate considers hydrokinetic energy

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hydrokinetic energy -- generating electricity from tides, waves, and free-flowing rivers -- is drawing significant interest in 2011, with about 200 project sites far enough along to seek key federal regulatory approvals.  (For a look at the range of those projects, check out my previous blog entries on hydrokinetic energy.)

Hydrokinetic power in the US may soon get another boost, as the Senate is considering a bill to facilitate hydrokinetic projects.  Senator Murkowski of Alaska has sponsored S.630, also known as the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2011.  (You can find the text of the bill here.)

As drafted, the bill includes a Congressional finding that
      (1) the use of marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technologies can reduce contributions to global warming;
      (2) marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technologies can be produced domestically;
      (3) marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy is a nascent industry; and
      (4) the United States must work to promote new renewable energy technologies that reduce contributions to global warming gases and improve domestic energy production.
Based on these findings, S.630 goes on to provide a variety of support for hydrokinetic projects.  These include the creation of a competitive grant program for marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technology research, development, and demonstration, as well as another grant program to help commercialize marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy.  Under current law (42 U.S.C. 17282), the US Department of Energy can award grants to support the construction of small hydropower facilities (15 megawatt capacity or less). While this incentive is currently limited to projects in Alaska, S.630 proposes to open it up to projects located anywhere in the country.  The current draft of S.630 includes funding through fiscal year 2014 for these programs.

The future of hydrokinetic energy in the US hinges on a number of variables.  How will S.630 be changed as it moves through Congress?  Will it be enacted into law?  How will new technologies change hydrokinetic project economics?  Depending on the answers to these questions, hydrokinetic projects may soon be helping us keep the lights on.

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