Energy technology faces global barriers


WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Even though developing countries could benefit from advanced energy-efficiency and renewable energy technologies, American companies need federal help in pushing those technologies past several kinds of barriers, witnesses testified Wednesday at a Senate Energy Committee hearing.

The Bush administration's positions on global energy initiatives have followed an uncertain course, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the committee's chairman. The White House needs to include more long-term considerations for sustainable development and environmental issues, he said.


"One striking example that I find disturbing is how poor natural resource development policy is resulting in the complete loss of valuable resources such as natural gas," Bingaman said.

Despite U.S. expertise in using natural gas effectively, the nation's delegation to last month's Johannesburg summit declined to contribute to a World Bank Group program to reduce the worldwide burn-off of gas from oil wells and refineries, Bingaman said. Such programs could, for example, provide many African nations with enough energy to free up human resources devoted to finding firewood and other fuels, he said.


The Department of Energy is not ignoring the possibilities of transferring energy-related technologies overseas, said Carl Michael Smith, assistant secretary for fossil energy. The demand for such products could top $25 trillion in developing countries, he told senators.

DOE is one of several agencies taking part in a Clean Energy Technology Export group, Smith said, adding the group expects to deliver a five-year strategic plan to Congress shortly, but programs in some countries are developing more rapidly.

"We are working closely with China, in advance of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, to identify opportunities for the application of U.S.-developed clear energy technologies," Smith said.

Bingaman asked what concrete steps the CETE group has already taken. Smith, in consultation with other DOE officials at the hearing, said the group is planning meetings to consider elements of President Bush's recently announced energy development policy.

"I'm encouraged there's more coordination, but obviously if there's no one feeling it's their responsibility to do anything, people can coordinate for a long time," Bingaman replied.

Over the past few years, the renewable energy industry has seen a decline in concrete assistance from government agencies in accessing foreign markets, said Daniel Schochet, vice president of ORMAT International, of Sparks, Nev., a provider of geothermal and other energy technologies. Worries about a developing country's possible instability and other financing risks have delayed or prevented U.S. companies from winning contracts, he testified.


Agencies need to provide credit support or other means of enhancing investment opportunities to help U.S. technology compete with projects from European or Japanese teams, Schochet said. Such assistance should be set up so that the entire aid amount is repaid once the power plant or other facility begins operating, he said.

Another key to ensuring worldwide viability of renewable and energy-efficient technology is a healthy U.S. demand for such products, Schochet said. The energy bill in House-Senate conference is the best way for lawmakers to support that demand through production tax credits and other means, he said.

There are other steps the government can take to ensure accelerated development of these technologies, said Jeffery Logan, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Supporting regional energy cooperation could free up the infrastructure financing needed for countries to create jobs that properly support new technologies, he said.

Areas ripe for cooperation include the Caspian Sea region and the Russia-China frontier, both of which would benefit from natural gas pipelines, Logan said. China in particular has extensive natural gas resources, and needs to properly utilize the fuel to curb emissions from its coal-based system, he said.

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