Balance of Power

By Kate Sinner, Director of Federal Relations

Renewable ocean wave energy seems like a natural. It promises jobs for Oregon and carbon-free power for the nation. It can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and contribute to economic development. But before we can realize that potential, we need to be careful to find a balance. In an ideal world, offshore wave energy buoy arrays would be placed where they don’t constrain fishermen and crabbers and or harm fish and marine mammals. We need to do enough research to know that sea life — and the people who depend on it — will not be compromised.

Illustration by Chris Buzelli

As I coordinate Oregon State University’s government relations in Washington D.C., I work with OSU faculty members — some of the nation’s top experts — in marine ecology, coastal geophysics and wave energy engineering. Oregon Sea Grant adds strong relationships with community groups and the fishing industry. It’s no exaggeration to say that OSU is regarded as the national thought-leader in marine renewable energy. The university uses its deep knowledge and expertise to assist Congress and federal agencies in shaping policy, defining research areas in marine energy and advocating for necessary funding levels.

Renewable energy is both a national and international priority. In 2005, when the 109th Congress wrote and debated the Energy Policy Act, OSU researchers were publishing papers on wave energy. Both OSU and Congress saw the potential of this research and included the creation of marine renewable energy centers in the bill. Our advocacy effort included strategizing with policymakers and providing expert testimony. Much work by key individuals at OSU and in the office of former Rep. Darlene Hooley and her staff led to the creation of these competitive U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) centers.

While the establishment of the DOE centers was a significant accomplishment, it took a few years of strong advocacy with DOE and Congress to appropriate funding. Once that was done, OSU researchers partnered with the University of Washington to respond to requests for proposals. Ultimately OSU was awarded one of only two national centers, the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC). NNMREC’s goal is to lead the nation’s research in marine renewable energy with OSU focusing on wave energy and with UW working on tidal. The initial DOE award was a commitment of $6.25 million in federal funds over five years.

In 2010 OSU worked with Capitol Hill to develop a broad marine renewable energy policy. The result is HR 6344, the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2010. This bill contains authorization of marine renewable energy-related programs ranging from research and development to commercial application and includes increased authorizations for test centers, including NNMREC.

In addition, with leadership from the Ocean Renewable Energy Consortium, of which OSU is a member, the DOE budget for ocean renewable energy programs grew from $10 million in FY 2008 to $48 million in FY 2010. Over those years, NNMREC has competed for and won additional DOE funds.

This isn’t the only area in which OSU has been active in Washington. When the House Science and Technology Committee was marking up a nuclear energy research and development bill, we helped to refine some of the provisions. We are often called upon to provide input on national policy matters with significant budget implications. In recent years, OSU faculty members have provided expertise on forestry, climate change, agriculture, fish and wildlife, the oceans, nanotechnology and aging.

OSU leadership in these areas and our advocacy for key federal research budgets is helping to address national priorities. These initiatives have the additional benefit of supporting students who have opportunities to participate in groundbreaking studies that will achieve balance in our approach to renewable energy. OSU experts are shaping the nation’s research agenda for years to come.