Senate Panel Upends Trump Energy Policy
Amid the Washington political drama of late, a bipartisan report of the US Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2018 budget got lost in the shuffle. The report lays out a completely different energy agenda than President Trump’s proposed budget.
The Trump administration’s budget included severe cuts to clean energy projects such as DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), reflecting conservative doctrine that the government concentrate on basic research, and not on commercializing technologies.
But Senate appropriations committee takes a remarkably different tack. The committee’s $38.4 billion budget added $4 billion to Trump’s proposed DOE budget. And the committee’s report, which passed with only one dissenting vote, advocates for federal government action in all phases of clean energy development.
“The president’s budget request proposes a shift away from later stage research and development activities to refocus the department on an early-stage research and development mission,” the committee report says. “The committee believes that such an approach will not successfully integrate the results of early-stage research and development into the US energy system and thus will not adequately deliver innovative energy technologies, practices, and information to American consumers and companies.”
The committee, by contrast, provides funding to support medium- and later-stage research and development and deployment and demonstration activities.
The Senate committee report also noted that the Energy Department must make up for the limited research and development budgets of utilities, a situation brought about by the regulatory effort to keep electricity costs low for consumers.
“Utilities are unlikely to implement new concepts because most utilities would need to use their own systems for testing and evaluation, which could impact consumers,” the report says. “State public utility commissions also have limited budgets that do not support research and development. The states rely heavily on the department’s technical assistance on assessments of data and tools to help them evaluate grid modernization alternatives.”
Having laid out that rationale, the committee increased the budgets for DOE’s solar programs, offshore wind development, and energy storage, noting that government support for storage research “is helping the nation’s power grid to better address reliability, resiliency, safety, and accessibility.”
The Senate committee’s approach reflects the fact that clean energy has become part of the larger US energy and economic system. “Clean energy is here to stay,” said a recent Brookings report on the subject, “and the Senate confirmed that in its approach to DOE in its budget.”
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