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Doug Krizner: In the energy bill passed by the House this month, private utilities would have to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The bill names eight sources of renewable energy. One of those covers more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface. Elizabeth Wynne Johnson has our story.
Elizabeth Wynne Johnson: If there’s a symbol of the ocean’s raw power, it’s the crashing wave.
Oregon State University electrical engineering professor Annette von Jouanne is working on ways to capture the water’s potential.
Annette von Jouanne: As soon as the waves start to crest, we start to lose that energy.
von Jouanne runs the nation’s top wave energy research lab.
von Jouanne: Our goal is to harness the energy in the heaving ocean swells.
How it works: Giant offshore buoys capture the ocean’s unrelenting force to generate electricity.
The churning water has what von Jouanne calls energy density, meaning that a little bit of ocean can produce a lot of electricity — enough to impress Oregon congresswoman Darlene Hooley.
Darlene Hooley: The potential is there to produce about 10 percent of the energy needs of this country.
The Democratic representative sponsored a bill to put $250 million over five years into wave energy. It’s included in the House energy package.
Hooley: It means jobs, it’s research and development. It means new investments into the coastal communities.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission already has a dozen permit applications for projects, including wave energy parks with arrays of buoys that connect to the grid by cables on the ocean floor.
Suddenly the open ocean starts to look a bit more restricted.
Kevin Dunn: I’m all for new and innovative ways of getting energy, but I’m almost certain that anywhere that they do this will be another closed area for us.
Kevin Dunn of Astoria, Oregon is a commercial fisherman. He’s worried that fisherman won’t be able to drag their nets through those new wave energy parks.
Dunn: There’s places that it might be absolutely wonderful and there are places that we might really, really, really not want them. And given the history, chances are they’re going to be right where we don’t want ’em.
The pursuit of alternative and renewable energy is a kind of modern-day Gold Rush — everyone’s staking claims. Depending on how you look at it, the ocean’s half-full or half-empty.
I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson for Marketplace.
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