Obama’s Budget Delivers on Energy

By / 2.2.2010

Elections really do have consequences. After years of virtual inaction from the Bush administration on a clean economy, the president’s new budget is a politically savvy, substantively brave, and altogether impressive collection of proposals. Against the dim eight years, the proposals for the Department of Energy are electrifying, and continue to show the administration’s commitment to bringing path-breaking change to energy and environmental policies.

In the critical area of “negawatts,” for instance, the president proposes a sweeping expansion in energy efficiency, with $500 million in credit subsidies to support $3 to $5 billion in loan guarantees for efficiency and renewable energy projects.

On research and innovation, he proposes $5.1 billion for the Office of Science, including $1.8 billion for basic energy sciences to discover novel ways to produce, store, and use energy. He also puts $300 million into the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (DARPA-E).

And he includes goals regular folks can get our arms around. The budget will double renewable energy generating capacity (excluding conventional hydropower) by 2012. It will push out new battery manufacturing for 500,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles a year by 2015. And DOE and HUD will work together to retrofit 1.1 million housing units through 2011.

Renewables, batteries, and retrofits. These are all practical achievements that will make a difference in the lives of millions of people, and that can be easily visualized.

These are progressive measures, to be sure. They’ll be popular in blue states and probably purple ones as well. But the president also includes other measures to ensure the package is taken seriously across the country. The budget includes $36 billion in new loan authority, for a total of $54.5 billion, to support DOE loan guarantees for nuclear power facilities. Specifically, the budget conditionally commits to loan guarantees for two nuclear power facilities for at least 3,800 megawatts during 2010. It’s a move that will help the president sell his budget to pro-nuclear senators.

The budget also proposes $545 million to develop carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies. Substantial support for these exciting technologies is critical to getting support from representatives and senators from states, including the critical Appalachian belt, where coal is, and will continue to be, an important source of energy.

Exciting news to see substance, vision, and strategy coming together in one document and a clear indication that — on the energy front, at least — the change promised in 2008 is resoundingly here.