An unusual consortium comprised of large utilities, environmental groups, energy think tanks and ocean energy developers has just written to President-elect Barack Obama about the tremendous potential of wave energy and the role it can play in reducing our nation's dependence upon oil.
The group includes utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Portland General Electric and Florida Power & Light (the largest utilities in California, Oregon and Florida, respectively); environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Surfrider Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council; and academic entities Oregon State University and the New England Marine Renewable Energy Center. Taking the initiative on Hawaii's behalf are Robbie Alm, COO of Hawaiian Electric Co., Virginia Hinshaw, chancellor of the University of Hawaii, and Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. I encouraged these Hawaii leaders to participate in the important discussions with the new administration.
In its unprecedented letter to the president-elect, the consortium is asking Obama to provide support for wave energy, citing "conservative estimates" that indicate wave energy could "supply at least 10 percent of the current U.S. demand." That's a staggering number for an economically imperiled nation that has spent $700 billion in the last two years on imported oil.
The consortium attached a white paper, titled "Ocean Renewable Energy: A Shared Vision and Call for Action," to its letter. Among the guiding principles are encouraging pilot and demonstration scale projects, streamlining regulatory processes and cooperating in preparation of unified environmental documents.
Economic stimulation can't take place at home if the U.S. ends up having to import wave energy conversion technology. The consortium stakeholders are making this a major focal point, stating that "without increased government action to encourage demonstration projects and to fund research and development, the promise of ocean renewable energy may never be realized, and the U.S. may see Europe corner the market on these technologies, in much the same way that it did with wind."
The consortium also stresses the importance of pilot projects in determining the effects of wave energy technology on marine environments to ensure that we protect our ocean resources to the greatest degree possible while extracting energy from ocean waves.
I joined the key stakeholders in the consortium and met with Obama's transition team on Dec.16 in Washington, D.C., to discuss how best to integrate wave energy technology into the U.S. energy portfolio.
Hawaii is poised to become a leader. The Department of Energy designated the University of Hawaii as one of two national Marine Renewable Energy Centers. HECO, the administration and energy department signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an effort to meet 70 percent of Hawaii's energy needs with clean energy by the year 2030. Since that time, Hawaii has seen bold plans in the renewable sector. Two of the more ambitious projects are Oceanlinx LLC's wave energy project off Maui, and Better Place's electric vehicles. But the electric vehicles must be able to obtain energy from clean, renewable resources, such as ocean waves.
The message I gave to Obama's transition team is that Hawaii is one of the best places in the world for wave energy conversion, and we are ready. We have an abundance of year-round wave energy, a large, concentrated market on Oahu and our residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation because our state exports up to $7 billion each year to import oil. With UH Chancellor Hinshaw, HECO executive Alm and economic director Liu joining the consortium's call for action, our state will lead.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) in the state House.