US budget halves renewables spending

Under the proposed budget for 2002, funding for the Department of Energy’s renewable energy programmes is to be cut from $376 million to $186 million.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham released the department’s 2002 Budget request to Congress on 9 April, which would see a 50% decrease in funding available for renewables, as well as a $61 million reduction in research for energy efficiency programmes.

The cuts in both areas were justified, as, according to Abraham, some $600 million will be provided for renewables from bonus bids for oil and natural gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2004 (see this week’s other budget story) and that the research programs “have not helped us avert the energy crisis”, which he said was the worst since the 1970s.

Renewables bore the brunt of the total cuts of $500 million in the $19.2 billion budget proposed for the Department of Energy. However, $150 million has been pledged for developing less-polluting coal in 2002. Under this new Clean Coal Power Initiative, a consortium of coal companies, utilities, and generating equipment vendors will develop new technologies and will receive more than $2 billion over the next 10 years.

Other ‘green’ measures include extending the current 1.5-cent tax credit for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced from wind, organic biomass material and poultry waste by an additional three years to power plants built up to 2004, with an expansion of eligible biomass to include forest-related and agricultural sources. A new tax credit of up to $2,000 for individuals purchasing solar energy equipment to generate electricity or heat water in homes was proposed, and an increase of $120 million for the federal weatherisation programme, which helps low-income families make homes more energy-efficient.

On nuclear waste, the budget supports design of a new waste treatment and immobilisation facility at Hanford, Washington, for highly radioactive waste. Nuclear power spending is to kept high and Vice President Dick Cheney recently revealed that his energy policy team is considering possible additional future nuclear power in the US (see related story).

The budget proposals were condemned by the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of prominent business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders. “The Administration’s proposal to cut energy efficiency R&D by more than 30 percent, even as they declare an ‘energy crisis’, could not come at a worst time for American consumers and businesses,” commented the group’s president, David M. Nemtzow. “We commend their proposal to increase funding for low-income weatherisation by $120 million. But if the proposed cuts in the other clean energy programs are allowed to stand, then efficiency programs that currently save consumers more than $25 billion each year, lessen oil imports, and prevent the emission of millions of tons of pollution would be gravely threatened.”

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