Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Brian Baird (D-Wash.) recently introduced the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2010. The legislation is designed to overcome barriers to the deployment of marine hydrokinetic renewable energy (MHK), by promoting research, demonstration of commercial applications of technologies, and identifying ways to address any potential environmental impacts.

“Our oceans have an amazing potential to produce renewable energy on a consistent basis that, as of now, is relatively untapped,” Inslee said. “If we are going to lead the world in clean-energy technology and development, we must seize every opportunity. This legislation will help advance our understanding of the possibilities of marine hydrokinetic renewable energy … and lays the foundation for future public and private investments.”

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has estimated that ocean resources in the United States could generate 252 million megawatt-hours of electricity—6.5 percent of America’s entire electricity generation—if ocean energy gained similar financial and research incentives as other forms of renewable energy.

According to a 2009 study by the University of Washington, Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute and EPRI, marine-renewable resources could yield 51,000 megawatts of power—equivalent to 34 conventional coal-fired power plants.

“This legislation will develop hydrokinetic energy test sites around our country, where we can test prototype technologies. It’s vital that we get these devices in the water so that we can start making hydrokinetic energy a part of our clean-energy future,” Baird said.

If enacted, the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act would establish a series of competitive demonstration grants to facilitate the commercial application of MHK technology components, devices and systems at a variety of scales.

The following are potential uses for the grants:

• Testing and evaluating MHK technologies at a variety of scales, including full-scale prototypes
• Conducting research, development and monitoring activities to support the demonstration project
• Collecting data to evaluate MHK systems and communicating information to help utilities, power producers or suppliers.
• Providing information regarding environmental impacts, effective monitoring techniques, and engineering designs that can reduce environmental impacts

The bill also establishes a competitive environmental research and development grant program that will help to determine how best to monitor these technologies in the water and avoid their impact on the environment and marine life.

Additionally, the bill expands an existing Department of Energy program to create test facilities that will demonstrate a variety of technologies at a range of scales to evaluate the technical viability of each technology. At test facilities, developers would be able to tap into existing infrastructure and resources. Competitive grants for three MHK test facilities could provide up to $50 million in federal funding for MHK programs.