Saturday, September 16, 2006

DOE to hydro and geothermal: You're old enough to support yourself

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that the U.S. Department of Energy has declared geothermal and hydroelectric power "mature" and kicked them out the funding nest. DOE's FY2007 budget contains $0 for research into the two technologies, down from the meager $24 million ($1 million for hydro, $23 million for geothermal) they received this year.

DOE has a lot of belt-tightening to do, but this seems like an especially ham-handed move right now.

First, DOE has spent the last six years refuting critics who question its support for "mature" nuclear energy -- through Price Anderson, GNEP, funding for new licenses, etc. -- at the expense of renewables. While the department has sound reasons for supporting nuclear development, this latest move would seem to prove the critics right. The decision not only slaps down the renewables crowd, but it undermines an important pro-nuclear argument.

Second, neither geothermal nor hydro has "maxed out" in terms of technological advances. For example, the article talks about our friends at Verdant Power, who have been working for several years to drop tidal-action turbines into New York's East River, not far from the United Nations. These aren't 19th-century salmon-crunching industrial beaver dams -- we're talking 21st century, high-tech, go-with-the-flow. And, the technology is still in its infancy.

Finally, these technologies actually meet the standards Bush set out in the National Energy Policy. At a visit to the Limerick nuclear power plant in May 2006, Bush said:

"So what I believe the American people should understand is that we can put policies in place that encourage economic growth, so you've got a better standard of living, and at the same time, become less dependent on energy from overseas and protect the environment."

Syntax aside, his point is clear: Encourage profitable industries that will provide reliable, domestic, environmentally sound energy choices. Geothermal and hydro are domestic resources by their very nature; promising developments are making them more reliable and environmentally friendly. Support from the federal government can help these technologies -- and the generation behind them -- meet the profitability goal, while also serving the public interest.

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