Congress passed a spending bill to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2018 that includes robust funding for clean energy innovation—and most importantly, it clears the way for the Department of Energy (DOE) to carry out an effective operation while guarding against many harmful anti-environment policy “riders” that have no place in a spending bill.
In passing the government funding bill on Friday, Congress rejected the Trump administration’s push to eliminate ARPA-E—the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy program that drives cutting-edge innovation in energy technologies. It rejected the deep cuts proposed by the administration to clean energy programs at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), instead increasing spending 11 percent above last year’s levels. And it rejected Trump’s attempt to kill the widely supported ENERGY STAR® program, keeping it safely intact at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A rebuke to the dangerous cuts proposed by the Trump Administration
The president’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposed a 67 percent funding cut to EERE. This office houses most federal clean energy research and development (R&D) programs, including supporting massive declines in the cost of solar power through the very successful SunShot Initiative, helping low-income homeowners save money on their utility bills, and setting minimum efficiency standards for appliances.
And while it may be months overdue, Congress did the right thing and sent the president back an 11 percent increase, funding EERE at $2.32 billion and recognizing the immense need to invest in cheaper, cleaner, and more affordable energy technologies.
The spending bill also renewed funding for crucial—and highly successful—programs that were on the White House’s chopping block, including:
- The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) received a 15 percent funding boost, despite being slated for elimination in the president’s budget.
- Congress refused to eliminate the Loan Programs Office (LPO), which helps emerging energy technologies overcome the proverbial “valley of death” between the laboratory and the marketplace.
- The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)—a DOE program that has provided 7 million low-income families with energy efficiency upgrades since 1979—received an additional $23 million over 2017 levels to help more Americans in need, and simultaneously reduce the nation’s energy consumption.
- The ENERGY STAR Program—a voluntary labelling program administered by EPA that helps consumers and businesses identify and purchase energy efficient products, turning $50 million in federal investment into more than $30 billion in annual savings. This program, targeted for elimination, was funded at FY17 levels and will stay safely at EPA.
On track to double our clean energy R&D investment
Investing in clean energy creates millions of jobs across the country for people of different skill sets and education levels, it protects the health of children and counters the real effects of climate change.
In short—Clean Energy Wins. And with their votes last week, lawmakers showed that they agree we can do so much more.
Congress took a big step in rejecting the Trump plan and by recognizing that there is no shortage of opportunities waiting to be tapped by investing in clean energy innovation. But, lawmakers should continue to focus on how to lead the clean energy revolution.
China—the world’s largest funder of clean energy R&D—has pledged to double its state-sponsored investment by 2020; meaning $3.8 billion could become $7.6 billion in just two short years. To keep up, the U.S. will need to continue investing in clean energy innovation and the support from lawmakers last week will make that easier to realize.
America's clean energy programs are delivering value across the board and are something lawmakers in Congress should be proud to support. Consistent, long-term investment by the federal government has proven to be a responsible and effective use of taxpayer money—our money. For instance, from 2010 to 2016 with support from DOE-led research, the installation cost of solar came down by over 70 percent, and is now powering millions of homes and employs over 370,000 people nationwide.
Future R&D investments should include efforts to overcome the technical challenges associated with increased solar penetration on the grid and reduce the non-hardware costs, or “soft-costs”, which account for up to two-thirds of the total cost of new solar systems.
It’s not all about the numbers—language matters
Last week, at a hearing on FY19’s budget proposal in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the DOE Secretary Rick Perry affirmed that when it comes to funding he would follow Congress’s lead: “So let me just leave it at this: if this Congress—if this committee—they support the funding of [ARPA-E], it will be operated in a way that you will be most pleased with.”
While Secretary Perry may promise to follow directions in hearings, his actions to date say otherwise.
His department instructed ARPA-E to withhold $91 million, leading to job loss and disruption of several projects. DOE also illegally delayed four energy efficiency standards that save American consumers and businesses over $8 billion in energy costs. Further, there are 14 efficiency standards past legal deadlines and at least 5 more proposed or final rules due by the end of 2018 which DOE is on track to miss.
With an administration that has tried hard to avoid spending money on clean energy, it’s more important than ever that Congress be specific in the bills it passes to ensure that the check lawmakers just wrote is spent as they intended. Luckily, the language in the spending bill shows that Congress left nothing to chance.
The bill specifically funds manufacturing innovation and photovoltaic R&D, moving beyond previous language, which only provided direction for Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) research. It provided direction for offshore wind development—which is great to see as offshore wind offers enormous potential to increase the nation’s renewable energy capacity and create jobs. As innovative technology loan applications at the Loan Program Office have languished over the last year, Congress explicitly directed DOE to process loans.
The funding levels and associated language are something to be proud of—but the story can’t end here.
Clean energy won this time, but we will continue to push now and into the future for funding increases to clean energy innovation and encourage lawmakers to be clear about how to spend these funds to keep DOE in check, because the clean energy breakthroughs today are building the energy system we need to fight climate change and keep our economy growing.