Trump budget would cut renewables lab by more than half

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory would see its funding fall by more than half under President Trump’s budget request for the Department of Energy, according to new documents.

A DOE budget outline posted online also shows about a 35 percent slash for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in West Virginia, which focuses heavily on carbon capture and fossil energy research.

Previously, the administration had released overall numbers for applied energy offices and announced an intent to focus on early-stage research, but it was unclear how proposed funding levels for fiscal 2019 would affect the national labs directly.

The budget request “reflects an increased reliance on the private sector to fund later-stage research, development, and commercialization of energy technologies,” DOE said.

The administration said it plans to maintain “the most critical core capabilities and infrastructure at DOE National Laboratories related to sustainable transportation, renewable power, and energy efficiency technologies.”

Under the proposal, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory would see about an 18 percent cut in comparison with fiscal 2017 funding levels, while Pacific Northwest National Laboratory would see a roughly 23 percent reduction.

Much of the 51 percent decline for Colorado’s NREL would be due to lower funding from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which Trump is targeting for a roughly 65 percent decrease in the next fiscal year.

NREL gets some funding from other agencies and from industry partnerships, but that money would not offset planned DOE cuts. Additional sources last year boosted NREL’s annual budget to $383 million, with the majority of money coming from DOE, according to an NREL official.

Similarly, cuts at NETL would stem partly from reductions to DOE’s fossil energy office for research on capturing and storing carbon dioxide. NETL’s funding would fall from about $800 million to $520 million.

The lab proposals are likely to be disregarded by members of Congress, but they highlight the administration’s priorities. Lawmakers likely to push back include Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who said in a statement last month that “Congress controls the power of the purse, and I will continue to advocate for NREL.”

Many labs would see a funding boost.

DOE’s support for Argonne National Laboratory, for instance, would increase from $641 million in fiscal 2017 to $652 million under Trump’s framework. That’s in part because of a proposed infusion of cash for advanced computing research.

The administration is pushing to build an “exascale” computing system by 2021 with Argonne and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. With exascale, computation science could have 50 times more power and help protect the grid from cyberattacks and speed up development of a range of energy technologies.

Funding levels also would increase at some of the largest facilities, including Sandia National Laboratories and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.