The Green Budget Protects Federal Investment in Renewable Energy Innovation and Deployment

I’ve written several posts in the last few weeks detailing some of the many negative impacts to the U.S. renewable energy industry from this year's cuts to the Department of Energy budget passed by House Republicans.  The environmental community has been a leader in pushing back against this narrative of economic doom, and pointing out the damage of these kinds of indiscriminate cuts (to energy and the environment).  Today, with the release of the environmental community’s 2012 Green Budget (link opens large PDF), we provide a detailed vision as to how, and why, we should fund these essential programs in the upcoming fiscal year.  My contribution to the Green Budget was in helping to craft the DOE section, and that’s where this post will focus.

To recap and provide some additional context (for those who somehow have managed to miss the excitement), the House has passed an appropriations bill to fund government for the rest of fiscal year 2011, that would drastically reduce critical federal investment in basic science and cutting-edge applied clean energy research (that the private sector doesn’t, and typically can’t, make), shrink important renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy while also unnecessarily killing energy efficiency and state energy programs.  This in spite of the overwhelming support among Americans for clean energy technologies, and the success of recent DOE efforts that have helped the wind industry add 15 gigawatts of capacity since the start of 2009 (increasing industry capacity by 60%) and doubling total solar capacity.

Instead, we propose a new, more strategic and more far-sighted allocation of funds in the coming year. In developing the Green Budget, we canvassed dozens of experts in government, academia, private companies and the financial sector.  We analyzed historical patterns of investment, collected data on effective and efficient programs and supplemented these efforts with our own perspective.  In doing so, we were able to put forth a set of detailed funding recommendations for the Department of Energy clean energy efforts, focusing primarily on the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), but also including the Office Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE), the Office of Science (OS), Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) as well as many nuclear and environmental clean-up programs.

Among the many highlights of what the increased funding recommended by the Green Budget could accomplish:

  • Help meet the Renewable Fuel Standard’s target of 36 billion gallons by 2022 partially through advanced biofuels, which would reduce oil imports by as much as 770 million barrels annually by 2030, and save consumers $60 billion by 2030.
  • Bring the cost of solar technologies down to $1 per watt, which would allow it to compete on an unsubsidized basis with fossil fuel energy technologies.
  • Allow the U.S. to tap into its 4,000 gigawatts of offshore wind energy potential which could power tens of millions of American homes
  • Develop 50 gigawatts of baseload geothermal energy, which could replace dozens of coal power plants
  • Reach 1 million electric vehicles by 2015, which would reduce oil imports and save drivers money.
  • Create 100,000 new jobs in energy efficiency by issuing long overdue appliance standards.
  • Reduce the industrial energy usage of the average U.S. manufacturing plant saving billions of dollars and making American industry more competitive.
  • Improve the reliability of our electricity grid while accelerating the deployment of new smart grid technologies.
  • Fund essential investment in U.S. basic science research programs that will create the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Ultimately, we believe that reducing DOE funding and eliminating clean energy initiatives that are clearly surpassing their goals would represent a serious step backwards and damage our nation’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.  Instead, our Green Budget supports the aggressive expansion of funding for transformative clean technologies that will play a vital role in ensuring the continued health and global competitiveness of the U.S. economy.

Finally, it’s important to address the persistent, and well-worn, criticism that these investments are not appropriate and too expensive given our current fiscal climate. 

First – a lot of effort has gone into finding offsets for these programs.  We have an entire section (appropriately the first chapter) that details dozens of offsets that would shift priorities and resources away from carbon intensive technologies and environmentally damaging programs to the more promising areas we recommend. 

Second – and perhaps more important, cutting critical energy and environmental programs is not a “deficit-reduction” strategy in the long-term.  From our report:

These programs support millions of jobs, improve our infrastructure, encourage economic investment in local communities, boost our global competitiveness, and keep our air breathable, our water clean and our wildlife and outdoor spaces protected.

The consequences from not supporting these programs are far more dangerous and damaging to the economic health of our country in the long-run than any short-term value from indiscriminate cuts to critical energy and environment programs (that would have an infintesimal impact on the federal deficit anyway).  Again, from our report, which provides a fitting conclusion to this post:

Protecting public health and the environment provides net benefits to our U.S. economy by substantially reducing costs, including health care, ecosystem restoration, and water treatment, while ensuring active job creation through renewable energy research and development, protection of ecosystem services, and fostering and preserving public lands and wildlife dependent recreation. The cost of these programs is a relatively small portion of the federal budget and thus a very small percentage of the average American family’s tax expenditures, yet the benefits are extraordinary: clean air for children to breathe, clean water for families to drink, healthy public lands and rivers for people to recreate in, clean oceans to support healthy fisheries, pollinators that help sustain American farms and a renewable energy future that ensures long-term, wise investments that keep our nation on the cutting edge.