US, Israel seek new energy sources

New bill to forge partnership for energy research and development.

energy source 88 (photo credit: )
energy source 88
(photo credit: )
Israel and the US will pool their scientific brainpower to find and develop alternative energy sources under a bill passed by the House and now wending its way through the Senate. Under the proposed US-Israel energy cooperation act, scientists and engineers from both countries would focus on research, development and commercial use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuel sources. The act would appropriate $20 million annually through 2012 for grants to researchers at universities and business enterprises, awarded by a newly established International Energy Advisory Board in the US Department of Energy. All the funds are to come from the US. In a rare display of bipartisanship, the energy act was introduced by Congressmen Brad Sherman (D-California) and John Shadegg (R-Arizona), and approved by an overwhelming voice vote in the House last month. Essentially the same bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) and 14 of his colleagues. Although the bill faces the usual committee and appropriations hurdles, Smith's spokesman, R.C. Hammond, expressed confidence that the measure would pass the full Senate by the end of the current session. The act received a boost from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his May 24 address to a joint session of Congress, when he stressed America and Israel's common "desire for energy security" and praised the pending legislation. Ron Dermer, minister of economic affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said that the act would build on previous collaboration through the US-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation. Dermer also pointed to the large pool of Israeli scientific talent, such as at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and its ability to tackle new research fields. Similarly, Sherman noted past technological collaboration between the two countries, as in the development of the Arrow missile, and Israeli pioneer work in developing more efficient batteries, solar energy and fuel cells. In the language of the bill, he and Shadegg stressed that energy independence was "in the highest national security interest of the United States," and warned that the US now imports 58 percent of its oil. Such dependence will increase by 33 percent over the next 20 years, the legislators projected, with some of the exporting countries using their profits to fund terrorism and hostile propaganda. In a phone interview, Sherman said that when he introduced a similar measure last year, it died in committee, contrasted to the overwhelming support this year. He paid special tribute to the American Jewish Congress, which has been lobbying for effective energy legislation for many years and has mobilized public support for the House measure. Gary P. Ratner, AJCongress western regional executive director, said that his national organization had sent e-mails to some 25,000 members in support of the House bill. He urged that voters now contact their senators to advocate passage of the Senate bill. AJCongress national executive director Neil B. Goldstein said he was optimistic that the legislation would be passed by the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush. In a related development, business, academic and financial leaders will meet in Tel Aviv on November 8 for a high-level Alternative and Renewable Energy Conference, according to Shai Aizin, West Coast consul for economic affairs.