When it comes to alternative energy, President-elect Barack Obama and his team, as in other tech fields, is stating that the time for change is now. As part of his team's program, which encompasses wind, solar, and examining clean nuclear options, the team is turning its sights to ocean power.
Countries like Britain and Portugal have already jumped on exploiting the vast amount of energy in the ocean. Powered by the gravitational pull of the moon, the Earth's tides carry a vast amount of energy, almost entirely untapped by current generators. While the challenge of deploying a device out at sea that can withstand the elements and deliver power to the main land is considerable, many companies have already tackled the problem with innovative designs.
According to New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, U.S. ocean power efforts, on the other hand, are stuck in a political mire. The group met with President-elect Obama and his advisors to help them realize the nature of this problem.
In the U.S., two branches of government have been granted conflicting jurisdiction over the seas: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Minerals Management Service, part of the Department of the Interior. The result has been a squabble over who's in charge of approving projects which has been unable to be resolved thus far.
The Minerals Management Service gained the power to issue licenses to alternative energy projects on the outer continental shelf, 3 to 200 miles off shore, with the Energy Policy Act of 2005. That law, however, failed to eliminate the preexisting licensing authority granted to FERC. Now both organizations claim they have the right to issue the license.
Thus far, both organizations have been unable to resolve the territory battle. What has resulted is that funding for U.S. ocean-based alternative energy projects has dried up due to uncertainty about licensing.
The coalition pleading their case before President-elect Obama was composed of officials from local governments, utilities, environmental groups and ocean power companies, including Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies (OPTT).
If something is not done to clean up the mess, these groups say, the U.S. will lose its alternative energy lead to foreign competitors. Ocean Power Technologies is illustrating this as it is currently pulling some of its U.S. projects and has recently announced major projects in Australia and New Zealand.
The problem is among the toughest challenges to face the transition team, led by incoming Energy Secretary Steven Chu, currently a Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cellular Biology of University of California, Berkeley.