United States

United States

Budget proposal with lots in store

The Clinton administration is proposing that America's year 2000 wind budget is upped by 31% to $45.6 million, a slightly higher level than it suggested for the current fiscal year (FY). The proposed budget is good news for wind energy -- at least compared to other renewable technologies.

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Clinton tries again

Budget proposal with lots in store

The Clinton administration is proposing that America's year 2000 wind budget is upped by 31% to $45.6 million, a slightly higher level than it suggested for the current fiscal year (FY). The US Congress eventually approved a research and development budget for wind in FY 1999 of $34.8 million. The proposed budget increase, announced in late January, is good news for wind energy-at least compared to other renewable technologies. The increase for all renewables would up spending from $336 million in FY 1999 to $397 million in 2000, a hike of just 19%.

"We are pleased with the administration's proposed increase," says Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). "Wind energy technology is an enormous opportunity for the US, in terms of both the environment and the economy." The industry's partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE), he says, can help to continue the reduction in wind's price, making it "a major factor in the electric industry of the 21st century."

Disappointing, though, was Clinton's proposal to cut support by more than 60% for municipal utilities that install wind. Under the Renewable Energy Production Incentive (REPI), public or municipal utilities can qualify for a subsidy of $0.015/kWh for wind projects. These utilities are exempt from taxes and so cannot qualify for the federal Production Tax Credit for wind, if it is reintroduced. For 1999, the REPI program received $4 million. Clinton is proposing that next year the program should get only $1.5 million. "We hope to soon learn the administration's justification for a major decrease in REPI funding, and will be working with the American Public Power Association and our municipal utility members to rectify the situation," says a disappointed Jaime Steve, AWEA's legislative director.

The wind budget is just one part of a White House budget package Clinton was to send to Congress in February. It proposes a total of $4 billion in tax breaks and spending to fight global warming, including for the first time a "clean air partnership fund" of $200 million. Grants from it would go to America's state and local governments to help lower greenhouse gases, mostly from burning fossil fuels. It also suggests that $105 million should be spent on research into how forests and agriculture can help offset greenhouse gas emission-doubling of the current funding level.

"Research, development, and accelerated use of energy efficient and clean energy technologies are major elements of the solution to global climate change," states the Department of Energy (DOE) in a budget summary prepared for Congress. "Even without the threat of global climate change, these investments would still be wise national policy."

Deep rooted opposition

Even so, many of the same climate initiatives were rejected by the US Congress last year, which accused Clinton of trying to implement the Kyoto climate treaty without the ratification of the US Senate. There is still deep-rooted opposition to Kyoto in the US Congress and amongst big businesses-which spends millions of dollars a year lobbying the federal government. Just before the budget announcement, arch-conservative Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was so sure that opposition remained fierce that he challenged the White House to submit the Kyoto climate treaty for ratification. Administration officials have said they do not expect the treaty to be submitted to Congress until after the 2000 election.

Under the Clinton wind budget proposal, funding for applied research would receive an additional $2.8 million in financing and a new program, "Wind Partnerships for Advanced Component Technologies," would be established to encourage joint industry-government teams in testing promising technology. If Clinton has his way, DOE's Next Generation Turbine program will also get an extra $4.8 million for new turbine designs entering the engineering and prototype fabrication phase.

Several field verification projects using advanced technology turbines would also be installed in new regions for wind power across the US, according to the proposal. In addition, the Co-operative Research and Testing program would receive a $3.2 million budget increase for verification projects under the Hybrid Systems for Village Power project, and for a wind monitoring network to document performance of several new wind power plants.

Clean power pressure

Shortly before the budget proposal was announced, a coalition of environmental and business groups had urged Vice President Al Gore to ensure that the administration sets an example in the fight against global warming. The Sustainable Energy Coalition asked for "aggressive goals" in an upcoming executive order on the use of renewables and energy efficiency in federal government buildings.

"The federal government should lead the nation in reducing carbon emissions by setting a government-wide goal of 20% below 1990 baseline by 2010," said the group, of which AWEA is a member. The Kyoto Protocol calls for industrial nations to cut heat-trapping emissions from fossil fuel use by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012.

The coalition specifically proposed that 10% of all federal facilities' electricity should come from renewables by 2005, a proportion that would then increase by 1% yearly until it reaches 25% in 2020. The group also asked that "energy star" standards-America's program to inform consumers on the environmental qualities of products like computers and dishwashers-be expanded to a broader range of items on the market. Last year another pressure group, the Alliance to Save Energy, said the federal government could in fact save taxpayers $1 billion a year if energy use in buildings was reduced and conformed to, among other things, the Energy Policy Act.

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