FERC counsel comments to Senate panel on marine, hydrokinetic bill

Capitol Hill

A lawyer for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission commented to a Senate panel on a marine and hydrokinetic energy research bill and reviewed FERC's actions to promote development of hydrokinetic pilot projects.

John Katz, FERC deputy associate general counsel for energy projects, testified to the Senate Water and Power Subcommittee on the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 (S.1419) introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The bill reauthorizes the Department of Energy's national marine renewable energy research, development and demonstration centers. It expands the current program by adding: support of in-water testing and demonstration of MHK technologies; technology development assistance; and establishment of critical testing infrastructure.

It also directs the Secretary of Energy to consult with the secretaries of Interior and Commerce and with FERC on a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial application to expand marine and hydrokinetic energy.

Katz told the subcommittee Feb. 27 that FERC is not authorized or funded to engage in research, development or commercial application activities, but its staff is prepared to assist the energy secretary as appropriate in such matters.

Katz said establishment of national MHK R&D and demonstration centers could provide important support to develop the technology, but suggested they should be owned by the Department of Energy. Centers owned by private entities, states or municipalities on navigable waters likely would require FERC licensing, he said.

The FERC lawyer also noted the bill would authorize FERC to issue pilot MHK project licenses under specific criteria. Katz said the commission already has issued pilot project licenses under assumption it has authority to do so under the Federal Power Act. If Congress decides to provide explicit authority for pilot projects, Katz recommended that it provide flexible criteria due to the unknowns of developing a new industry.

Katz noted FERC issued guidance in 2008 on licensing marine and hydrokinetic pilot projects. He said FERC has issued six MHK licenses and 11 preliminary permits and is reviewing an application for a tidal pilot project.

A Department of Energy witness, Mike Carr, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, told the committee DOE is still reviewing S.1419 and does not have a position on the bill.

Carr did note DOE's Water Power Program recently completed a comprehensive resource assessment that estimated technically extractable resource potential of nearly 900 terawatt-hours per year for wave energy and nearly 400 TWh per year for tidal and ocean current energy. He said that represents up to 25 percent of projected U.S. generation needs by 2050.

Director Belinda Batten of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center told the committee it is essential to pass language in S.1419 that would reauthorize DOE's Water Power Program. She said most MHK companies are not mature enough yet to receive tax benefits utilized by other conventional and renewables technologies. She added that the bill would provide an avenue for MHK firms to advance through necessary testing stages more quickly.

As an example of her center's work, Batten talked about working with Columbia Power Technologies to develop and test a prototype wave energy device. Batten said Columbia Power Technologies announced in February that it issued a manufacturing order to Siemens Industry for its power generator, which will be used in Columbia Power's full-scale power take-off test project.

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