President’s Budget: A Welcome Commitment to Clean Energy and Innovation

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Cai Steger, Energy Policy Analyst, New York, Center for Market Innovation

Today, the Obama Administration released its annual budget proposal, outlining  spending priorities for the upcoming year. For supporters of renewable energy, it demonstrates a strong commitment to boosting investments in energy science and innovation, while supporting critical policies that level the playing field for renewables.  Recently, the environmental community released its annual Green Budget, highlighting our spending recommendations for the year.  In it, we propose a similar approach to building a new, cleaner, energy future for our country, and we are supportive of a number of elements of the President’s Budget. Among the more important aspects of the President’s energy and innovation spending requests:

  • Promoting a two year extension of important tax incentives for renewables (the production tax credit and the Treasury Cash Grant program, transformed after 2012 into a refundable tax credit) while providing $5 billion to encourage renewable energy manufacturing here in the U.S. These programs help renewables compete against the oil industry and other fossil fuel corporations, and have supported the installation of large amounts of new wind and solar energy.   
  • Funding for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program within the Department of Energy (the focal point for most of DOE’s investments in these technologies) would be increased in the President’s budget to about $2.3 billion, about 25% more than last year.  In addition to continuing important investments in technologies ranging for solar, wind and energy efficiency, extra funding requests were made for “Advanced Manufacturing”, building energy efficiency, geothermal energy and electric vehicles.
  • Spending on innovation also increases under the President’s request, with ARPA-E, the well-regarded breakthrough research agency getting $350 million (an increase of nearly 30% from the year before), while the Office of Science would receive $5 billion to invest in critical science research and development (up $127 million from the previous year).
  • Funding to boost energy efficiency and separately open Federal lands to sustainable clean energy generation was also included, and are covered by my colleagues in other blogs on Switchboard
  • Unnecessary fossil fuel subsidies would be cut significantly, saving $40 billion over the next ten years. 

There are really two ways to look at this budget request.  One is to break down the budget by agency and program, as I have done here, pointing out the requested increases in funding that renewable energy advocates strongly support.  But the big picture is perhaps more exciting – as one sees more necessary investments in science, research, manufacturing and education across all levels of government and military, that will ensure our country remains a global leader in innovation, and can sell these clean technologies to the rest of the world.

After all, America has led every major technological revolution over the last 100 years, from airplanes to the internet, and sold the products from these advances to the world, making us richer and improving our lives.  Why shouldn’t America lead the clean energy revolution as well? Americans in survey after survey say they want renewable energy that is safe, clean and dependable, and doesn’t harm our environment.  Nine in ten Americans—including 85 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of independents—say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the President and Congress.

America has always been a leader in innovation, and it is this ingenuity and innovation that has made America great. We are doing it again with renewable energy technologies, and we shouldn’t turn back because of partisan instransigence or entrenched fossil fuel special interests.

Just like with other transformational technologies—space travel, computers, mobile communications – America is once again at a competitive crossroads when it comes to developing renewable energy technology. Are we going to compete and win on renewable energy, or let other countries lead and win the 21st Century economy? The United States invented solar photovoltaic technology and pioneered commercial wind turbines and then let other countries take the lead building them. Not this time. We can regain our lead in those technologies, and develop new ones as well.  Importantly, if we don’t lead on renewable energy, other countries will.  China is investing $1.7 TRILLION in renewable energy other strategic technology sectors over the next five years.

This budget may not be perfect, but for clean energy, it is an important step in continuing the rebuilding of America, to ensure that we lead the world in transforming to a new energy future.

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