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United States

United States

Looking better

Proposals to slash federal R&D spending for renewables next year by at least half and abolish the US Department of Energy (DOE) are already far less likely to be realised than they were just several weeks ago. But for a while, renewables and environmental lobbyists were calling for urgent grass-roots action in case clean energy research and development programmes were about to be dropped entirely from the federal budget in the fiscal year starting this autumn.

A joint legislative campaign was rapidly organised in early June by wind, solar and other activists as the budget committee of the US House of Representatives seemed poised to axe wind and solar funding. The cuts being proposed might have cut wind and solar monies by half or even cut them out altogether. In this fiscal year, FY '96, wind is getting $32 million in R&D funding.

By mid June, the more likely cuts for the wind budget were from 10-15%, says Karl Gawell, legislative director at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). This change in proposed budgets is "nothing less than dramatic," he adds. He cites four factors for the improved outlook for wind -- grass-roots pressure for environmentally friendly policy, lobbying by renewables groups, election year pressure on politicians who want to seem responsive to their constituents, and the action of certain politicians who are pro-renewables.

After America's July 4 holiday, legislators are expected to "mark up" the proposed budgets and pin down the reductions. And if renewables seem to be facing larger cuts proportionately than other non-defence energy areas, Gawell says he expects to have enough support to start a fight on wind's behalf. "I think we will do wellÉ we've got very strong support," he says.

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