Whitehouse underscores ocean energy at conference held here


At a conference that brought together engineers from across the country, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse vowed Thursday to support the emerging ocean energy industry by fighting for tax credits and other supports, noting that science allows “sensible and knowledgeable decisions to be made about locating marine energy resources.”

In 2011, Whitehouse helped form the Senate Oceans Caucus, which he also co-chairs. The Caucus, a bipartisan group of senators from coastal states, works to increase awareness and find common ground in responding to issues facing the oceans and coasts, which support millions of jobs in America. The Caucus held a 2012 hearing specifically on ocean energy, including developments in New England.

In opening remarks at the fourth Annual Marine Renewable Energy Technical Conference of the New England Marine Renewable Energy Center (MREC), which took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Whitehouse discussed the importance of renewable energy policy to at least 100 ocean energy engineers from the U.S., Spain, Chile, Israel and the U.K. During the conference, attendees made 24 presentations about practical, sustainable ways to extract energy from the ocean.

Presentations focused on tidal energy, wave energy, modeling of ocean energy devices, offshore wind energy, environmental impacts and modeling of ocean energy resources.

MREC is an organization based at UMass Dartmouth comprised of academia, government agencies, industry, municipalities, public interest groups and concerned individuals, focused on fostering the sustainable development of ocean-based renewable energy: waves, tides, currents and ocean wind.

According to a press release, it is “leading the effort to transform southeastern New England into an international hub of ocean-related wind, wave and tidal energy technology research through the Conference.” They are also operating the National Offshore Renewable Energy Innovation Zone off Cape Cod; partnering with the federal government in a “CRADA” agreement to apply new national renewable energy industry standards for testing wind, wave and tidal energy devices in the Zone; studying the impact of wave and tidal energy technology on fishery habitats and beach erosion; and creating radar systems to guide wind power development.

MREC Executive Director John Miller said that while the ocean industry is smaller than the wind industry, it’s just as important, and having Whitehouse’s support is valuable.

“Tide and wave are more dependable than wind,” said Miller. “If you have wave and tidal in addition to the wind, the people who are doing the grid have an easier time managing the grid. To get help for those smaller industries, you need politicians to be aware of them.”

During his speech, Whitehouse said that as the Ocean State, Rhode Island has a lot of faith in oceans, and energy is an important part of that, from economic drivers like fishing and tourism, to ship building and international yacht racing.

He said that PolitiFact recently reported that there are more jobs in clean and green energy in North America than in the gas industry. Also, he said, the trajectory is that clean and green energy is growing, and that marine energy is going to be a vital part of growing the economy.

“It’s important that we move to clean energy sources in order to protect our planet,” Whitehouse said. “It’s not just emerging in Rhode Island, it’s emerging nationally.”

Raymond M. Wright, Dean of Engineering at URI, said that Whitehouse has been an “incredible advocate” for URI, as well as ocean science. He went on to say that URI has been working with a university, which recently obtained an island off the coast of China and plans to build a campus for at least $200 million just for ocean sciences and engineering programs. URI also plans to soon hire three faculty members to offer more courses.

“We have made a major commitment to continue this effort and help people like yourselves,” he said to the assembly, suggesting attendees visit the school to check out the facilities and meet teachers.

After the event, which wrapped up around 5 p.m., guests were treated to a reception sponsored by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, as well as the Providence/Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The reception, said Miller, is a key part of the event, as it allows attendees to meet and chat with other people in the industry.

Initially, more than 44 presenters were scheduled from 10 countries, including from India and the Far East, as the event was originally planned for the end of October. But Hurricane Sandy caused a delay, and 20 presenters weren’t able to attend. Still, their ideas were shared via webinars.

“It worked out very, very well,” Miller said. “It [was] an educational experience for all of us who are committed to learning and sharing best practices in turning wind, wave and tidal energy into clean electric power right here in southeastern New England.”

MREC is developing a network of technology developers and energy users who will collectively define the needs of this budding industry and work to bring together the required technology, capital, infrastructure and human resources to implement ocean renewable energy in the most sustainable manner for the region. Learn more at www.mrec.umassd.edu.


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