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President Obama's Proposed FY'14 Energy Budget: What's Missing?

The non-profit Environment and Energy Study Institute held one of its many Congressional briefings, and on Friday, April 19th, the briefing was on the Administration's proposed FY14 energy budget.

Jason Walsh, Senior Advisor, Dept. of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, outlined the basics of the Administration's proposal regarding the U.S. Department of Energy’s energy eficiency and renewable energy budget for research, development and demonstration (RD&D).

The proposed 2014 budget increases funding for the Department of Energy's (DOE) renewable energy and energy efficiency technology programs by more than 59 percent above 2012 enacted levels, to a total of $3.5 billion. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) alone would receive $2.8 billion, an increase of almost 56 percent from 2012 appropriated levels. According to the White House, the FY 2014 budget increases funding for clean energy technology programs across all agencies by 30 percent, to approximately $7.9 billion. Walsh highlighted the manufacturing initiative to leverage efficiency in U.S. manufacturing.

Fred Sissine, energy policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service (CRS), presented the history of enegry funding through a compendium of charts and graphs.

I was the final presenter and highlighted the DOE Waterpower RD&D Program's $55 million request, up from the 2012 request of $20 million (this 2012 budget was created to show Congress that an Administration can cut expenses), a $35 million increase. The marine energy, geothermal, concentrated solar, zero energy buildings, hydrogen, and other RD&D programs served as sacrificial lambs under past Administrations.

I also raised three core omissions or lack of focus within the FY’14 budget: research, development and demonstration is relegated to a high degree in individual silos, while the market and the technologies need to be better integrated and interfaced.

What’s Missing #1: The program priority of the integration of storage technologies such as advanced batteries, thermal salts, flywheels, compressed air or liquids, hydrogen, and pumped hydropower, among others. The same is true for buildings RD&D, optimizing advanced efficiency with on-site renewables including LEDs, electrochromic glass, geothermal heat pumps, solar photovoltaics, small wind, fuel cells, and many others.

What’s Missing #2: RD&D for advanced communications and diagnostic protocols between a broad range of technologies that also meets new cyber-security requirements. This should blend the technologies mentioned above with smart grid, zero energy buildings, and continuity of operations within buildings, infrastructure, and our energy grids — both wires and pipelines.

What’s Missing #3: Resource assessment and data mining moved from laboratories to industry. One of the sad situations under the Obama Administrations is that the energy programs’ directions and priorities are not as accessible to industry, particularly small businesses. Public sessions are talking heads from the agency, rather than dialogue sessions with industry sectors. This is a major failure that just seems endemic throughout the federal technology programs. In the end, there needs to be greater interaction with small business to move the energy RD&D programs from government-initiated to business-initiated.

The Administration should also drive federal energy RD&D to align with a host of national priorities including U.S. homeland security goals and functions,  emergency preparedness, and air and water emissions mitigation. This should have a strict focus on reducing greenhouse gases, carcinogens, immune suppressors, and hormone disruptors, among others.

Federal budgets are just proposals. The Republican-led House of Representatives, whose Appropriations Committee has the first move in the legislative process, will likely re-order the priorities back to highly-subsidized fossil and nuclear power. And the U.S. Senate, which is Democratic-controlled,  will likely be more in accord with the Administration’s proposals. So the funding path and priorities will be long and drawn out as with everything else in the Washington, DC political arena.

But the goals and priorities of the Administration’s FY’14 DOE energy budget is sound and right-headed and deserves widespread support — then it is up to our community to ensure that it operates in the most effective way possible.

Lead image: Capitol building via Shutterstock

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