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Sunday, August 10, 2008

EARLY POLITICS OF OTEC

The following is excerpted from Chapter 4 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth. I place the beginnings of the modern day development of ocean thermal energy conversion with the first OTEC congressional legislation in 1979.
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Hawaii had just shown for the first time in July, through the Mini-OTEC barge under the leadership of Lockheed, that it was possible to produce net positive electricity from the temperature differential of the ocean. I had just started work in the U.S. Senate for what would subsequently be a three year period, and Senator Spark Matsunaga asked me to develop a bill to authorize funds for OTEC. Rich Woldin, also newly hired, and a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wrote the first draft and I provided comments.

In those days Democrats controlled the White House and Congress, plus, we were in the midst of the second energy crisis when no one in his right mind would actually pick up a visitor at Dulles Airport, but would do so if the arrival was at National Airport (now Reagan). The difference was distance and the requirement to join a gasoline line. Any energy bill, thus, passed without much debate.

On October 15 of that year there was a Senate hearing, and the USDOE representative, Bennett Miller, who later became a friend of mine, testified that the administration did NOT want the OTEC program accelerated. This was standard USDOE protocol, for the administration generally abhorred the interference of Congress on anything. So, as a staff member, how do you maintain positive relationships with government officials with this kind of attitude? You simply talked things out behind the scene and treated congressional hearings as just a stage of the process. Whether we agreed on anything or not, Democratic or Republican, the key to long term success was to maintain a trusting rapport. Lifetime alliances generally resulted, which worked to my favor when I returned to the University of Hawaii and directed the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and served as vice president of development for the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research. Almost a third of a century later, many remain close friends, I can’t identify even one person I can cite as an antagonist and some are still working for the USDOE in D.C.

There was a follow-on reception after the hearing, with hula dancers and the usual assortment of Hawaiian food and drinks. Lobbyists seeking advantage paid for these events. We also passed out flashlights charged with electricity from Mini-OTEC and small bottles of seawater from the ocean depths. Senators generally avoid these receptions unless personally asked to come by the sponsoring Senator. Matsunaga’s bill did have 20 co-sponsors, but many Senators found their way to the reception mostly because of a fortuitous circumstance. There were roll call votes through the early evening and Sparky brought back with him streams of Senators who had to eat something anyway. Within months the bill passed into law.
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The price of oil snuck up to $116.62/barrel over the weekend.
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Tropical Depression Kika is about a thousand miles south southwest of Hawaii, and will continue to weaken. Hurricane Hernan, at 85 MPH, is turning to pass Hawaii to the south, but should weaken over the next couple days.
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