M.H.K. in the U.S.A.

Let’s rewind a couple of weeks to August 9 — a date of extreme significance for American hydropower as it marks the date President Barack Obama signed the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act into law.

And though the enacment of each piece of legislature represents a significant victory for the conventional hydroelectric industry, they overshadow a bill that could ultimately prove as important for America’s ocean, tidal and stream power sectors.

Called the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013, or officially, S. 1419, the legislation was introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in the days preceeding the current Congressional recess.

S. 1419 has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for review, though that won’t take place before the Senate reports back to Capitol Hill on September 9.

The bill is designed to help commercialize marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technologies by streamlining permitting, and continuing research and development. Meanwhile, that the bill covers forms of energy produced by waves, currents, ocean tides and free-flowing water in lakes and rivers means most of the MHK spectrum is covered.

The comprehensive nature of S. 1419 really seems to capture the underlying motivation for the legislation, which is, in my estimation at least, to close the gap with Europe in terms of MHK development and innovation.

It’s an audacious goal for sure — especially considering the enviable state of Europe’s MHK sector — but given the estimated generating potential of America’s coasts, rivers and lakes, I’d think domestic MHK development would be an avenue many would be anxious to explore.

I suppose that’s why I’ve been a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more ballyhoo about S. 1419. After all, it seems as if MHK has, at an international level at least, been targeted by many within the industry as hydropower’s “next big thing”.

So I’m curious for those in the U.S., is it just a general unfamiliarity with MHK that has caused it to be somewhat forgotten in discussions of American hydropower? Or is it something different altogether?

And assuming it’s possible to pinpoint any number of factors stunting American interest in MHK, what can be done to increase it?

Or, is it simply that the U.S. has so many opportunities for conventional hydropower development that MHK options have, thus far, held little appeal?

I’m interested to hear your opinions.


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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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