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US Government Budget Proposals Increase Clean Energy Funding

President Barack Obama unveiled on February 1 a $28.4 billion budget request for DOE for fiscal year (FY) 2011, including $2.36 billion for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The proposed budget aims to reduce unnecessary energy use, boost renewable energy sources, and strengthen clean energy research as the United States moves toward a clean energy economy.

The budget request for EERE represents a 5% increase over FY 2010, not counting funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The President's budget includes substantial increases for many EERE programs, including a 53% increase for wind energy, a 43% increase for the Weatherization and Intergovernmental program, a 32% increase for the Federal Energy Management Program, a 25% increase for geothermal energy, and a 22% increase for solar energy. For more on the geothermal request, click here.

The proposed budget also includes $57.5 million for facilities and infrastructure at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, including the completion of the Energy Systems Integration Facility. It also proposes $50 million for a new program called Regaining our Energy Science and Engineering Edge (Re-Energyse), an educational effort designed to guide students and workers to pursue careers in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship related to clean energy.  RenewableEnergyWorld.com wrote about the country’s lack of engineers, here.

In addition, the budget asks for a 43% increase in the funding for program direction and calls for nearly doubling the amount spent for program support. The President's budget typically represents a starting point for the Congressional appropriation process.

See the DOE press release here and and the DOE budget and performance Web page, here

In addition to the funding for EERE, the proposed DOE budget includes $500 million to support an estimated $3-5 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, as well as $10 million to support the continued administration of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.

The budget includes $35 million for clean energy transmission and reliability, $39.3 million for Smart Grid research and development, and $40 million for energy storage on the electrical grid.

It also includes $300 million for the Advanced Research Project Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), for transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot and will not support. ARPA-E received $15 million in initial DOE funding in FY 2009 as well as $400 million in Recovery Act funds. The budget also requests an additional $140 million for the existing Energy Frontier Research Centers program, including two new centers, and $107 million for Energy Innovation Hubs.

DOE will continue funding the three Energy Innovation Hubs introduced in FY 2010: fuels produced directly from sunlight; improving energy efficient building systems design; and creating a virtual model of an operating nuclear reactor. For FY 2011, DOE is proposing a new hub dedicated to batteries and energy storage.

Ag and Interior Departments Propose to Boost Clean Energy Funding

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior are proposing to increase funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in their budget requests for fiscal year (FY) 2011, too. For the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), the New Energy Frontier initiative includes $73.3 million for renewable energy programs, a 24% increase above 2010 funding levels.

The proposed funding includes $19.8 million for the Bureau of Land Management to review applications for renewable energy projects on public lands, $34.9 million for the Minerals Management Service for renewable energy activities on the Outer Continental Shelf, $6.6 million for U.S. Geological Survey to analyze and document the effects of renewable energy on wildlife populations, and $7 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct endangered species consultations and help plan and design renewable energy projects that are friendly to wildlife.

It also includes $5 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help facilitate renewable energy development on tribal lands.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget is harder to interpret because much of its funding is mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill. Of the discretionary funding, the budget proposes near-level funding of $39 million for the Rural Energy for America Program, although it shifts most of the funds to grants, resulting in $34 million in grants and an estimated $12 million in loan guarantees (supported with $5 million in federal funds).

The Farm Bill provides another $70 million, supporting an additional $36 million in grants and an estimated $73 million in loan guarantees. The budget proposes $17 million for the Biorefinery Assistance Program, enough to support $50 million in loan guarantees, while the Farm Bill provides $85 million for the Bioenergy for Advanced Biofuels program.

Through the Commodity Credit Corporation, the budget provides $479 million for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. The Farm Bill also provides $15 million for the Forest Biomass for Energy Program and $5 million for the Community Wood Energy Program, both programs of the U.S. Forest Service. For more on Bioenergy developments, see Obama Unveils Plans To Boost Biofuel Market.

In terms of research, the proposed FY 2011 budget provides $10 million for the establishment of five Regional Biofuels Feedstocks Research and Demonstration Centers, which will coordinate government research efforts to accelerate the development and deployment of dedicated energy feedstocks.

The USDA budget also includes $34 million for a research initiative to develop cost-effective non-food feedstocks for biofuels.

But perhaps most significant is that the 2008 Farm Bill allows the USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to provide loans for energy-saving efforts, including energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The budget for the RUS Electric Programs includes $4.1 billion in loans, although it's unclear how much of those loans may go to clean energy projects versus traditional transmission and distribution projects.

The USDA also notes that funding for several of its business programs, including the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program and Value-Added Producer Grants, will be available for clean energy projects. In addition, the Homeownership Loan and Loan Guarantee programs will provide financing for more energy efficient homes.

Kevin Eber is a senior science writer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In that capacity, he has promoted energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies for nearly 20 years.

Ernie Tucker is an NREL staff writer who has worked as a writer and editor in a variety of media, including newspapers, television and online content.

This article was first published in the U.S. Department of Energy's EERE Network News and was reprinted with permission.

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