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How Politics Affect Tidal Power

Political institutions will play a critical role in determining how tidal power is integrated into United States energy production and consumption. Greater motivation to address global warming and move the United States toward energy independence means that political decisions will influence how this is accomplished, and how different forms of clean energy might make a difference.

Currently, political discussions in the US about clean energy usually center on solar power, wind power, and a range of biofuel and geothermal technologies. These technologies have received the majority of federal and state support, mostly in the form of various tax credits. This is mainly due to greater familiarity, as solar and wind power have been in use for decades – tidal power is still relatively new and unknown. At the same time, however, tidal power technology has reached a sufficient stage of development to warrant the same support, for which advocates of tidal energy must push for. The tidal power industry got a boost in September 2008 when Congress for the first time extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which makes it more profitable for businesses to build renewable energy systems, to cover tidal power.

Still, while the United States is currently making progress in its support of various renewable energies, it is falling behind the rest of the world, particularly in its development and integration of tidal power. Portugal and the United Kingdom’s strong governmental support through subsidies and research has poised them to become the global leaders in ocean renewables. The United States must step up and assume a level role by employing similar methods in developing such technologies. Ultimately, while 24 states plus the District of Columbia currently have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) mandating that a certain percentage of energy come from clean sources, the federal government, along with various state and local governments, will need to provide support helping to make sure these standards are being met. Tidal power can be a vital asset in attaining RPS goals, but the framework must be put in place to help utilities and businesses integrate it meaningfully and profitably.

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS)

Between the fiscal stimulus package enacted in February 2009 and the current federal budget under review in Congress, significant sums of money will be allocated to renewable energy production in the coming years.  This is an excellent opportunity for tidal power to earn some of the financial and institutional support needed to develop any energy technology on a large scale.  The expansion of incentives such as the PTC, and various competitive grants that were established in 2005 to help fund innovative energy technologies like tidal power, are two potential policy tools that could help make tidal power increasingly competitive and viable.  For tidal power advocates, it will be critical to insure that where there is money to support renewable energy, a portion of that money is spent supporting tidal power.

The United States has the capacity for tidal power to play a significant role in our energy future, providing an estimated 10% of country’s current power load. But this volume can only be realized with enough incentive to allow tidal power to grow and develop. For this to be accomplished, public support will be critical, along with continued pressure on politicians and political systems at all levels.

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