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Can Obama's Bold Stroke on Cleantech Innovation Survive Budget Cuts?

Innovators fear that the generous allotments targeted for renewables and efficiency in the DOE budget — the largest ever — could be in jeopardy

By Elizabeth McGowan

Mar 2, 2011

WASHINGTON—Clean technology innovators looking to sharpen this country's competitive elbows have every reason to be buoyed by the relatively bold numbers President Obama is floating in his 2012 Department of Energy budget.

Understandably, though, they fear that such generous allotments targeted for energy efficiency and solar, wind and other renewables could be in jeopardy.

Austerity, after all, is evolving into Capitol Hill's newest buzzword as House Republicans are wielding a buzz saw mentality toward a multitude of environment and energy programs designed to carry the federal government through September, when the 2011 fiscal year ends.

Despite this cleaver-heavy climate, however, Scott Sklar refuses to be a pessimist. He heads up the , an energy marketing and policy firm in the nation's capital.

The newly minted 112th Congress, he noted, is still finding its footing. 

"Right now, what Congress is going through is, 'My opponent liked it so it's got to be bad,'" Sklar told SolveClimate News in an interview. "Every administration goes through this. Remember, when you get beyond all the rhetoric and the dialogue goes on, you will see some of that softened. So many of these are bipartisan programs."

Sklar was one of three panelists participating in a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday focused on the 2012 DOE budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy. The nonprofit organized the gathering.

Fred Sissine, an energy policy specialist with the Congressional Research Service, and Henry Kelly, acting assistant secretary with (EERE), joined Sklar at the gathering.

Rosier Picture...

Overall DOE Energy Budget, 2012Briefly, the White House 2012 budget request for EERE programs is the largest ever. It rings in at a total of $3.2 billion, which is bordering on 11 percent of the total DOE budget. That's significant because it's a jump of $983 million — or 44 percent — above 2010 appropriations.

Those numbers first presented Feb. 14 are a reflection of what Obama laid out in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address as "our generation's Sputnik moment. We'll invest in ... clean energy technology — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet and create countless new jobs for our people."

One concrete goal the president committed to during that speech is doubling the share of clean electricity — from 40 percent to 80 percent — by 2035.

Kelly emphasized that the 2012 budget is geared to meet three goals — national security by advancing domestic energy resources; environment by corralling greenhouse gas emissions; and economy by promoting clean energy jobs and business opportunities.

"The challenge we've got here is an enormous one," Kelly said.

Growth in EERE is especially prominent when compared to other DOE offices. For instance, funding for electricity delivery and energy reliability programs is set to rise $69 million — 41 percent over 2010 appropriations — but this part of DOE is much smaller, with total funding of just under $238 million.

Plus, nuclear energy and fossil energy programs are scheduled to be hit with reductions. Nuclear faces a decrease of $5.4 million, which is 0.6 percent below 2010 appropriations. Meanwhile, fossil will be lopped by $417 million, 44 percent below 2010 appropriations. Most of the savings for the latter will come from by slicing fossil energy research and development, as well as the .

Contrasts With Grimmer 2011 Outlook

The reason that budget figures for 2011 are so strange and complicated is because Congress punted on its fiscal responsibilities last year.

Cleantech innovation lagging

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard is in the USA currently and has a lot to learn from these Federal cleantech innovation programmes.

Our Government in Australia is lagging far behind the US in supporting solar grid parity and has loyalty to dirty coal instead.

It is important for us down under and for other countries around world that President Obama gets his budget ask for renewables, because the UN climate and carbon trading process is going nowhere.

 

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