Governors balk over DOE wind research cuts

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2015

With the end of the fiscal year approaching, governors are registering a bipartisan complaint over funding cuts to wind research programs at the Energy Department that were included in a Senate appropriations bill.

The Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, chaired by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), takes issue with a $61 million reduction for wind energy research from current funding levels that is contained in the $35.4 billion fiscal 2016 energy and water development spending bill approved in May.

“Like federal support for other renewable energy and fossil energy research, investment in developing onshore and offshore wind energy is vital to the nation’s energy security and international competitiveness,” the governors wrote to Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) today. “And we feel it is important that the federal budget is not biased against one type of energy.”

The bill cuts funding for advanced wind component manufacturing, grid integration, atmospheric modeling and dealing with the effects on bird populations, according to the letter.

The governors note that other types of renewables would see increased research funds under the measure, which along with the rest of the spending bills has become ensnared in political squabbling over the spending caps in the GOP budget.

“Singling out DOE wind research for drastic cuts, while supporting research in other energy technologies, simply does not make sense,” they wrote.

The cuts reflect the long-standing antipathy toward wind energy by Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who has long complained about federal tax credits and spending on what he considers a mature technology.

But Inslee and Branstad credit federal wind research for reducing the costs of land-based wind energy by more than 50 percent over the past two decades.

“The steady progress in reducing costs and increasing performance of wind power has been aided by sustained research and development that continues to deliver substantial benefits to the nation,” they wrote.

The bill would continue DOE research into offshore wind, which is backed by Energy and Development Subcommittee member Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The letter echoes concerns expressed by White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan in June over the funding levels in the bill, which would provide nearly $790 million less for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy than the request (E&E Daily, June 3).

The Senate abandoned efforts to move the annual appropriations bills by regular order after Democrats promised to filibuster the measures to force negotiations over replacing the scheduled budget cuts set to kick in Oct. 1.

In the House, GOP leaders abandoned the spending bills after intraparty fighting over Confederate flag riders emerged. The House is currently trying to overcome opposition from social conservatives who are vowing to oppose any spending bill that contains funds for Planned Parenthood, which is accused of selling aborted fetal tissue for research purposes.

That threatens to derail a short-term continuing resolution, although House Republicans are trying to quell the conservative uprising by scheduling separate votes on anti-abortion measures.