Bush Administration Pushes Energy Campaign

White House officials wrapped up their efforts this week to promote the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI), a funding and research package the Administration says will help reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign sources of energy.

Administration officials, including the President himself, fanned out across the country in all directions promoting the Bush Administration’s energy plans, most of which will need to be approved by Congress. The Administration’s new focus on renewable energy technologies is widely seen as a move in the right direction but concerns remain over whether policy and funding will match the President’s goals. And a tinge of controversy on a non-energy topic managed to distract from the Administration’s energy message. U.S. Secretary of Energy Cool to Tax Cut Extensions On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Energy (DOE) Samuel Bodman visited New Hampshire’s GT Solar Technologies, a turnkey equipment provider for solar photovoltaic (PV) wafer, cell and module manufacturing systems. Bodman stressed, “I want to make clear how committed the Bush Administration and our Department are to developing solar technologies that provide the country with an economically competitive energy option.” However, when asked if he would support an extension of the Federal Energy Policy Act tax credits for renewable energy now in place for 2006 and 2007 for an additional six or more years to give the markets time to develop further and stabilize, Bodman declined to offer his outright support. “I have not been a proponent of tax incentives,” Bodman said. “We have two years to examine this, and we will try to understand it (credits) better, and then make that analysis. It’s the President’s decision,” he added, but with advisory help from the DOE and others. Bodman emphasized that he is focused on the short term and will work to create an impact now, not in the longer term of 25 or 50 years. “What we need to do is spend a half a billion dollars on the science and advanced energy research.” In setting up an “and” situation for the administration’s nuclear power and renewable energy push, Bodman said that in addition to AEI spending on “safe, emissions-free nuclear power,” the 2007 budget seeks $148 million for solar (including solar electric PV and concentrating solar power), $149 million for biomass and biofuels, and $289 million for hydrogen fuel cells. The 2006 budget for solar is $83 million. Accompanying Secretary Bodman was U.S. Congressman Charles Bass (R-NH). Speaking to the mostly 100+ GT employee audience, and pointedly to Bodman, Rep. Bass said that last week he “…testified before the House Budget Committee and challenged them to not only meet the President’s funding levels, but rather to beat those levels and aim to regain America’s preeminence in renewable energy technology and solar adoption.” Bass has worked closely with GT Solar, which was recently named the U.S. 2005 “Small Business Environmental Exporter” by the U.S. Import Export Bank. Speaking to GT Solar’s rapid international growth, Bass said, “GT Solar is but one example of the important work begun in the Energy Policy Act and a strong illustration of the benefit for New Hampshire’s economy when we match local strengths with a sound national policy of developing cleaner, native and renewable energy sources.” Bodman then went on to visit General Motor’s fuel cell activities in western New York to promote the President’s Bush’s $1.2 billion, five-year commitment to the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. As part of President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative, the FY 2007 budget request for the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative is being increased by $53 million over FY 2006 to $289.5 million. Presidential Visit Soothes NREL Funding Woes Bodman’s visits followed the President’s stops earlier this week to Johnson Controls, a manufacturer of batteries for hybrid electric vehicles; Uni-Solar Ovonic, a thin-film solar PV company; and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The President’s visit to NREL was perhaps most notable for what could have been an uncomfortable funding problem. A $28-million budget shortfall at NREL recently led to a layoff of 32 employees, including 8 researchers and 24 support staff. Facing the possibility of bad press upon the President’s visit, the DOE last Sunday transferred an additional $5 million to NREL to allow all the jobs to be immediately restored. “I recognize that there has been some interesting — let me say — mixed signals when it comes to funding,” said the President, speaking at NREL. “I was talking to (Dan Arvizu, NREL’s Director) about our mutual desire to clear up any discrepancies in funding, and I think we’ve cleaned up those discrepancies.” The discrepancies, the funding gap resulting in poorly timed layoffs, was resolved, but not without much of the U.S. press picking up on it. The President blamed the funding gap on the Congressional appropriations process where money can be diverted by lawmakers for specific projects. “Part of the issue we face, unfortunately, is that there are sometimes decisions made, but as a result of the appropriations process, the money may not end up where it was supposed to have gone,” Bush said. There is legitimacy to this point, with many industry experts, including the Solar Energy Industries Association, arguing concern over Congressional earmarks in past statements. There’s also, however, a much more vocal concern that the Bush Administration’s newfound excitement over renewable energy is simply not backed up with adequate funding. This was perhaps best summed up by Rep. Edward J. Markey, a senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The cuts in the funding for the NREL should never have been made in the first place,” Rep. Markey said. “The President’s rhetoric on energy continues to be out of step with his actual policies. This is yet another example of a president ‘conflicted by oil’ while complaining that we are addicted to it. The President said today that he acknowledges that he has sent some ‘mixed signals’ on funding for NREL, but he continues to send mixed signals on his energy policy as a whole. While saying that renewable energy is the key to ending our ‘addiction’ to oil, the president’s budget has cut the total funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy by $26 million dollars.” Treasury Secretary’s Solar Message Shadowed by Distraction Treasury Secretary John Snow also joined the ranks of White House officials promoting the Bush Administration’s proposed energy policies. On Thursday he first visited Fuel Cell Energy in Connecticut, which manufactures fuel cell power plants in the megawatt and sub-megawatt range. Snow then went on to visit Sharp Electronics’ Memphis, Tennessee, crystalline solar PV manufacturing operation to expand on the President’s earlier energy messages. According to local media sources, Snow may have been there to talk about solar energy, but the questions were more on the recent controversy about how a company controlled by an Arab country where Osama Bin Laden once laundered money could end up managing U.S. ports. It was revealed this week that the Bush Administration approved a deal to sell six large U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates, a controversial situation that has drawn fire from both sides of the political spectrum. The Memphis Eyewitness News, which covered Snow’s visit to Sharp’s Solar facility, said Snow explained to reporters that he had personally approved the port management deal but had only gotten involved in it a few days ago. The news outlet added that the port deal controversy has thrown the administration so far off the President’s current renewable energy message that only one question at Sec. Snow’s press conference was actually about solar power.
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