US Senate proposes business-as-usual energy budget

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The grown-ups have spoken.

In contrast to the U.S. House of Representatives’ proposal to cut the 2019 budget for renewable energy programs and advanced energy research – not to mention President Donald Trump’s call to eliminate entire agencies, the U.S. Senate’s budget committee has produced a measured funding proposal for the programs, run by the Department of Energy.

Like the House version, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations’ bill would increase funding for fossil fuel R&D, but only marginally. The Senate also calls for the same level of funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) as in 2018 – $2.3 billion – as well as a 6.5% increase in the budget for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), up to $375 million.

President Trump has proposed sharp cuts to the EERE and has proposed abolishing the ARPA-E entirely. A less extreme House bill called for a 10% cut to EERE and 8% reduction in ARPA-E funding. The final House and Senate versions will need to be combined, through a messy process of negotiations.

As in previous instances, the House and Senate appear to be largely ignoring President Trump’s radical proposals. An earlier budget proposal was slammed by the Senate sub committee on Energy as “unrealistic,” and the Republican-controlled House and Senate increased funding for both EERE and ARPA-E in a supplemental funding bill in March.

Senate prioritizes EVs, batteries

Beyond the top line numbers, the budget bills show the thinking among the leadership of both branches of the U.S. Congress. The House called for $175 million in funding for a new Office of Electricity Delivery, with a focus on battery technologies, and the Senate has also prioritized batteries, in the context of electric vehicles (EVs).

The Senate bill proposes an almost threefold increase in the budget for vehicle technologies under EERE, to $337 million. A baseline of at least $163 million – almost half – would go towards reducing the cost of batteries in light, medium and heavy duty vehicles, with funding for battery processing science, advanced chemistry, materials research, and modeling and simulation of performance.

The Senate Appropriations bill also mentions support for R&D to lower the cost of batteries for electric vehicles through the use of cobalt-free materials and roll-to-roll manufacturing, the former a nod to concerns about sourcing cobalt for lithium-ion batteries, as roughly half the world’s production comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo.