The Obama administration has come under fire for its proposed 25 % cut in the research and development budget – from $40 million to $30 million – for what its supporters believe is one of the most promising renewable energy sources in the country’s Northwest – wave and tidal power.

The proposed cut comes alongside the administration’s decision to seek an 82 % increase in solar power research funding, a 36  % increase in wind power funding and a 14 % increase in geothermal funding.

The decision – parts of the president’s budget submitted to Congress – came shortly after the Interior Department suggested that wave power could emerge as the leading offshore energy source in the Northwest and at a time when efforts to develop tidal power in Puget Sound are attracting national and international attention.

By some estimates, wave and tidal power could eventually meet 10 % of the nation’s electricity demand, about the same as hydropower currently delivers. In addition to Puget Sound and the Northwest coast, tidal and wave generators have been installed, planned or talked about in New York’s East River, in Maine, Alaska, Hawaii and off Atlantic City, N.J. However, they would generate only small amounts of power.

A prominent critic of the new policy is Senator Patty Murray, (Democrat, Washington) who said “Wave and tidal power holds great promise in helping to meet America’s long-term energy needs,” adding that Washington state is a leader in its development. “It’s time for the Department of Energy to focus on this potential. But playing budget games won’t get the work done.”

In addition to cutting funds in its budget proposal, Murray’s staff said that while $16.8 billion in the recently passed stimulus bill is reserved for renewable energy and energy efficiency, none of it is earmarked for wave and tidal power.

Energy Department spokesman Tom Welch, however, said the Obama administration is asking for 10 times more for tidal and wave power than the Bush administration did.

“The trend line is up,” Welch said. “The department is collaborating with industry, regulators and other stakeholders to develop water resources, including conventional hydro.” Murray sees it differently. Congress appropriated $40 million for the current year, so the Obama administration proposal actually would cut funding by a quarter.