By Kathy Wren
At the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, just off the coast of Maine, a tidal power system built and operated by the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) draws energy from currents created as 100 billion tons of water
flow into and out of the bay. The system
was the first commercial, grid-connected
tidal power system in the United States,
and ORPC expects to expand in the coming
years to provide electricity to roughly 2000
homes and businesses.
The company, which estimates that it
has pumped more than $25 million into
the Maine economy, attributes much of its
early success to the $1.75 million in loans
and grants it received from the Maine
Technology Institute (MTI). This publicly
funded nonprofit offers early-stage capital
and commercialization assistance for the
development of technologies that create
new products, services, and jobs in Maine.
Other state legislatures have also created P H
Investing in technology that turns tidal energy into
clean power has paid off for the state of Maine.
EDITED BY KATHY WREN
similar funding programs to boost their
high-tech sectors and attract top talent and
While local support for these programs
is strong and in some cases growing, the
organizations must be strategic with their
resources. To ensure that these dollars are
going to projects based on the soundest,
most promising science, MTI and other organizations rely on AAAS’s Research Competitiveness Program (RCP), which uses its
nationwide network of expert reviewers to
evaluate funding proposals for state-level
funders in Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and South Dakota.
Some of these programs are expanding
their activities, with new funding opportu-
nities rolling out and voters or legislators
approving new financing mechanisms. This
is happening despite, or in some cases be-
cause of, belt-tightening in Washington;
federal R&D funding as a percentage of
GDP is at its lowest levels in several de-
cades, according to the AAAS R&D Budget
and Policy Program. AAAS is active in a
number of efforts to encourage lawmakers
to turn this trend around and close the “in-
novation deficit.” In the meantime, states
are doing what they can to support innova-
tion within their own borders.
When designing their funding competitions, “states play to their strengths,” said
Rieko Yajima, RCP’s associate director. “They
are targeting their research dollars to areas
where they feel they have the best competitive edge.” RCP staff then draw from their
nationwide network of reviewers whose
areas of expertise match the proposals.
If reviewers do not reach consensus on
a proposal, RCP staff facilitate a discussion to help them arrive at a final decision
that includes suggestions to applicants
for strengthening their proposals. “Going
through those different opinions and coming to an agreement strengthens the review
in the end. You have an opinion that is
backed up by all the reviewers,” Yajima said.
Representatives from MTI and other
funding programs agreed that it would be
nearly impossible for them to develop a
similar peer-review system on their own.
They also said the confidential process provides objectivity that, along with AAAS’s
strong reputation, can assure voters that
their dollars are being spent fairly.
This credibility has long-term benefits
for awardees. Those that have received MTI
States lean in on R&D
As federal spending remains tight, AAAS is helping some states
make the most of their own R&D programs.