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Energy executives, former DOE officials urge Congress to continue R&D funding

Former leaders of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, or EERE, along with energy industry executives, are urging Congress to reject a request from the president to slash the bureau's funding by 69% from fiscal-year 2017 enacted levels.

In a June 8 letter, seven former leaders of EERE implored members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to maintain funding for basic science, energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil energy and electricity reliability. The officials led the agency between 1989 and 2012, spanning presidents George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama.

"While we have not always agreed on the relative emphasis of various elements of the EERE budget we are unified that cuts of this magnitude in the proposed [fiscal-year 2018] budget will do serious harm to this office's critical work and America's energy future," the officials wrote to leaders of the appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies.

The former officials said EERE is critical to encouraging U.S. innovation, creating well-paying jobs, cutting pollution and ensuring America's global competitiveness. EERE programs set energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, aid states in efficiency improvements and have helped the federal government cut its $23 billion annual energy bill. The officials called the energy efficiency standards "the little engine that could when it comes to stimulating massive low-cost energy savings." According to the DOE, the standards are expected to save consumers nearly $2 trillion on their utility bills between 1987 and 2030.

Don't ignore China

"This is a particularly inauspicious time to cut the EERE budget," the former officials wrote. "World-wide investment in clean energy now measures in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Governments across the globe — and companies large and small — want a piece of this massive economic pie representing tens of trillions of dollars over the next three decades and millions of jobs."

If the U.S. does not offer this leadership, the former officials warn that China will certainly step up to the plate. "We ignore China's resolve — and success to date — at our peril."

The former EERE officials noted that a reliable and resilient electricity system is key to energy security, which has been a focus of the new administration and Congress. While the ongoing addition of more variable resources and other technologies has the potential to improve grid performance, the officials cautioned that research and development is needed to develop the capabilities needed to operate a modern electricity grid. The letter noted that the utility sector invests just 0.2% of sales into R&D, and the federal government must fill in the gap.

The Bipartisan Policy Center similarly sent a letter to members of Congress signed by industry executives to offer support for continued R&D at the DOE and public-private partnerships on energy technology projects.

"The capital intensity of energy projects, long time horizons and uncertain regulatory environments make these partnerships especially critical in the energy sector," the executives wrote. "Such collaborations — like the development of technologies which enabled the emergence of hydraulic fracturing — have repeatedly shown their potential to enhance our energy security and create new jobs in an increasingly competitive global marketplace."

Signing on to the letter were Exelon Corp. President and CEO Christopher Crane, Shell Oil Co. U.S. Country Chair and President Bruce Culpepper, Pioneer Natural Resources Co. President and CEO Timothy Dove, Southern Co. President and CEO Tom Fanning, PG&E Corp. Executive Board Chair Anthony Earley, Jr., Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Maria Korsnick, Clean Line Energy Partners President Michael Skelly and others.