Comment: Would a new US Climate Change Bill fund solar?

Steve Barlas

As the main line Senate Climate Change Bill faded from sight at least for this year, a second Bill emerged and, again, it underlined Democratic disaffection with the Clean Energy Jobs and Power Act of 2009 (S. 1733).

Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) and GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) have introduced The Clean Energy Act of 2009 which would set aside US$100 billion in loan guarantees for research into alternative energy sources. This would be on top of the US$47 billion in loan guarantees Congress authorised as part of this year's economic stimulus package.

"I have a lot of reservations about cap and trade as a concept," Webb said. But whereas some Democrats opposed S. 1733 because of its reputed cost impact on manufacturers, Webb said his objection to it had more to do with the fact that it would give China a pass.

The legislation directs the Department of Energy (DoE) to conduct five “Mini-Manhattan Projects” to study carbon capture technologies, non-ethanol biofuels, electric vehicles and electricity storage, cost-competitive solar power, and Generation IV reactors and technologies that will ultimately reduce nuclear waste.

Unclear path?

If the Webb bill were to become law, DoE funding might be guided by a solar technology roadmap, which would be developed by a Solar Technology Roadmap Committee established according to the terms of a bill which is awaiting Senate approval.

The Bill (H.R. 3585) passed the House on 22 October by a vote of 310-106 is at the same time impressive and troubling. It is a big margin. On the other hand, the fact that 106 members voted against the bill raises some serious questions. That opposition may have to do with the Bill's spending level. The bill authorises US$350 million for DoE to carry out research in FY2011, rising to US$550 million in FY2015.

In total, the Solar Technology Roadmap will invest US$2 billion in solar R&D. As is often the case with these kinds of bills, however, the FY 2011-2015 portions of the US$2 billion would have to be appropriated every year by the Appropriation Committees. Given the size of the US federal budget deficit, that is highly unlikely. But first things first...so far no one in the Senate has introduced a companion to H.R. 3585, which doesn't bode well.


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