U.S. Energy Budget Highlights

The president's 2011 budget, posted yesterday on the White House/OMB website, triples Federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plant construction, to $54.5 billion. That compares with $3-5 billion in loan guarantees for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and $144 million to support grid enhancements. In addition, the Energy Department will invest $4.7 billion directly in development of clean energy technologies, including almost $2.4 billion for efficiency and renewables, $545 for "advanced coal climate change technologies," $300 million for ARPA-E, and $793 million for clean energy activities and civilian nuclear energy programs.

The content and composition of the 2011 energy budget is all the more significant because, as the administration appears to be resigning itself to enactment of what will be at best a weak carbon cap-and-trade bill, the weight of meeting carbon reduction goals will fall more heavily on direct support for green tech. Bearing in mind the U.S. Copenhagen pledge to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050,  the budget allocates $2.6 billion in research on climate change and impacts. The government will invest in registries to account for greenhouse gas emissions and issue regulations to improve energy efficiency, lower consumer bills, and reduce emissions.

Especially considering the more than $10 billion the energy department will be spending on activities associated with nuclear weapons--$2.7 billion to secure materials, $8.1 billion for weapon stockpile stewardship--the budget is bound to dismay advocates of renewable energy and carbon reduction. But bear in mind that the administration already spent very aggressively in 2010 in hot areas like the smart grid and advanced batteries. Even so, green tech advocates in the United States and abroad will be watching like hawks in the coming year to see whether developments are living up to promises.

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