DOE seeks funds for clean fuel, nuclear power

Stated goal is to meet president's objectives

The Energy Department’s budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year is focused on supporting the administration’s clean-energy initiatives, developing new power technologies, and increasing research and development efforts. But DOE will also trim costs by ending some research initiatives and freezing staff pay and bonuses at its national laboratories.

DOE's requested budget for fiscal 2012 is $29.5 billion, a 12.7 increase from its 2010 budget of $26.4 billion. It proposes boosting research into new ways to use, store and produce power, and for renewable energy technologies such as solar, biofuels and geothermal power. The budget calls for $425 million to support the “SunShot” solar power initiative, $64 million for offshore wind farms, $59 million for geothermal power initiatives.

President Barack Obama’s goal is to have the United States get 80 percent of its power from clean sources by 2035.

Energy research remains a key priority of the department’s proposed fiscal 2012 budget. The request calls for increased funding for clean-energy efforts and for the DOE’s traditional work of securing and reducing the nation’s nuclear stockpile.  

DOE is requesting $550 million to fund further energy research through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, the department’s advanced power brain trust. To support further research into new power technologies, the proposed budget would double the number of Energy Innovation Hubs and focus these new centers on areas such as battery technology, energy storage and smart-energy grid systems. An additional $36 million would be allocated to support developing a skilled scientific workforce — a 72 percent increase from fiscal 2011.

Nuclear power also gets a boost in the proposed budget. DOE is calling for $36 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power plants and $853 million to support nuclear energy, which also includes research and development in areas such as small modular reactor technology, which is specifically tagged for $97 million. The loan guarantees, combined with existing DOE authority, will support six to eight new reactor projects.

To promote the use of electric cars, the department is proposing to change the $7,500 tax credit into an instant rebate and allocate some $600 million into vehicle technologies. The budget would invest $588 million into electric vehicle research to support the administration’s goal of having 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015.

DOE would also build on progress made by its Loans Programs Office over the past two years to commit more than $26 billion in loans or loan guarantees to support 23 clean energy projects. According to the department, these efforts would create or save an estimated 58,000 jobs.

The proposed budget eliminates some $3.6 billion in tax subsidies for the oil, coal and gas industries. The Fossil Energy Program would see its funding reduced by 45 percent, or $418 million, and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s hydrogen technology program would be cut by almost $70 million, more than 40 percent.

There is also some pain in the proposed budget. The DOE is calling for cuts in programs such as the Office of Fossil Energy by shutting down the Fuels Program, and Fuel Cells Program, and Oil and Gas Research and Development Program and the Unconventional Fossil Technology Program. Other candidates for cancellation include ending operations at the Tevatron facility at the Fermi National Laboratory and closing the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Salaries and bonuses for personnel, site and facility management contractor employees at the DOE’s national laboratories would be frozen. The savings would be reinvested in the laboratories. The budget also calls for reducing corporate management costs by $45 million and cutting administrative costs across all programs.

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