The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is so successful that its funding should be diverted elsewhere, said the agency’s Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes.
“In the area of EERE…we have been meeting or exceeding our goals” over the last five years, said Menezes, who spoke at The American Council on Renewable Energy’s Renewable Energy Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. He praised the office for helping reduce the cost of electric-vehicle batteries, wind and solar technologies.
“Our job is to have early-stage research and move it along the technological readiness levels, eventually getting it to where it’s commercially deployable. But once it’s commercially deployable, then the question becomes: What role does the department need to spend?” he said.
“To be sure, you could continue spending money there, but then where would be the opportunities for new energy breakthroughs?” he asked.
The Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal released in February slashes funding for several clean energy programs, including EERE and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). According to numbers released by DOE, the EERE would receive $696 million, a cut of $1.3 billion below its 2017 budget. The administration proposed eliminating ARPA-E altogether.
The plan has been widely criticized by clean energy advocates for failing to adequately consider climate change and the shifting tides of the energy industry.
Menezes’ rationale for gutting EERE funding is “like stopping research in home-movie technology after the VCR,” wrote Elizabeth Noll, a legislative expert for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a blog post this week. “Wind, solar, energy storage and other clean technologies are at the VCR phase — and Secretary Perry’s budget stands in the way of the United States reaping the rewards that come with further developing them here at home.”
As Energy Under Secretary, Menezes is tasked with advising Energy Secretary Rick Perry on clean energy technologies and research initiatives.
According to the DOE’s own estimates, $12 billion in EERE funding has yielded a net economic benefit of over $230 billion, with an annual return on investment of more than 20 percent.
“They just can’t win — can’t be too successful or funding is slashed. Effective programs are penalized for success,” tweeted Jamie Nolan, a former government contractor who served as communications director for the DOE’s SunShot Initiative and attended Wednesday’s conference.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to defend the administration’s 2019 budget proposal before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. The secretary distanced himself from the 2018 budget proposal last year, telling the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee it “was written before I got here.”
While renewable energy programs are being targeted for cuts, Trump’s budget proposal would increase funding for high-efficiency coal plants and small modular units by 50 percent. The agency specifically plans to establish competitive funding opportunities for small and modular coal-fired power plants. Smaller coal plants would fit better into an evolving electricity system with increasing amounts of intermittent wind and solar power, said Steve Winberg, assistant secretary for fossil energy at the DOE.
The problem is, small modular coal plants are largely unheard of, and they may never make economic sense, according to analysts.
The president's proposed budget has virtually no chance of being enacted as written. Ultimately, it will be up to Congress to decide what government spending looks like, and last year lawmakers sidestepped many of the drastic cuts asked for by the administration.
“I will be fighting with my colleagues to provide full EERE funding in next week’s omnibus,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, who also spoke at the ACORE event. “We are working with our colleagues to try to accelerate, even if it’s only piece by piece, the investment in [research and development] that’s needed.”
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