Senate boosts spending for wind energy, Western water

Source: Hannah Hess, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Senate yesterday adopted two amendments to the fiscal 2017 energy and water development spending bill, boosting wind energy and Western water resources, as the measure rolls toward a vote on final passage as early as tomorrow.

By a 54-42 vote, the Senate adopted an amendment by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to add $95 million for wind energy to the $37.5 billion spending bill. The amendment would restore funding to current levels after appropriators had proposed shaving $15 million from the account.

“We have sometimes heard that wind is a mature industry, and [that] is why the funding for research should be revoked or lowered,” Merkley said, urging support. “But, in fact, as wind is emerging, we’re seeing continuous innovations that are resulting in different designs and different strategies for integrating intermittent wind energy into the grid.”

The Energy Department has estimated wind could provide more than a third of the electricity generated in the nation by 2050, Merkley said, providing a huge boon to the economy in rural states.

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a supporter of nuclear energy, defended his panel’s decision to cut back the wind subsidy, noting that the industry has received $23 billion since 1992.

“Sixty percent of our carbon-free electricity comes from nuclear reactors,” Alexander said, before casting a vote against the amendment. “Relying on giant wind turbines and new transmission lines to power a country that uses 25 percent of all the electricity in the world is like … going to war in sailboats when the nuclear navy is available.”

Grassley said yesterday that he found it “amusing” that some of the strongest opponents of wind energy are the biggest proponents of research and development investments for “costly … mature, traditional energy sources” (E&E Daily, April 26).

Fossil fuel research would receive $632 million in the bill, while nuclear energy research and development would receive more than $1 billion.

Western water, Army Corps

The Senate voted 73-23 for an amendment by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to steer $50 million toward Lake Mead, a massive reservoir that stores Colorado River water for delivery to farms, homes and businesses in the Southwest.

“The ongoing drought is threatening shortages, reviving the old Mark Twain saying, ‘Whiskey’s for drinking; water’s for fighting over,'” Heller said, calling the amendment “essential” to Western states.

Reid noted in his opening remarks this morning that the water in Lake Mead has dropped to levels not seen “since the Great Depression” and said the amendment would stretch “every drop of water as far as it’ll go.”

In its final vote of the morning, the Senate defeated, 84-12, a proposal by Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake to cut $69 million from the Army Corps of Engineers’ construction account for environmental restoration projects.

“This is kind of the outgrowth of the bad old days when we had earmarks,” Flake said.

The Obama administration proposed a $1.4 billion cut to the Army Corps, slicing the budget by 23 percent. But the Senate bill would restore funding to $6 billion.

According to an Office of Management and Budget official, Flake’s amendment would have freed up more than enough money to fill the gap between the Obama administration’s proposed funding level for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, and the level proposed in the Senate’s bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) spoke in opposition to the amendment.

“Funding for these projects enables communities to solve local problems in a way that protects the environment,” Feinstein said. “Problems are being solved, such as upgrading wastewater treatment facilities so that our drinking water and marine resources are protected and replacing deteriorated distribution systems with efficient systems that help conserve water.”

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.