Sen. Lamar Alexander wants subsidies for wind energy to go back on the chopping block if President Obama wants a key climate innovation program funded.
The Tennessee Republican is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee’s panel on energy and water development, which controls the purse strings for the Energy Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request.
Alexander sparred with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Wednesday over taking away the prized renewable energy tax credits to get Congress to approve the president’s Mission Innovation program. The innovation program is part of an international consortium to advance clean energy research and development in line with December’s Paris climate deal.
The administration wants $12.8 billion for the Mission Innovation program through fiscal 2021, doubling the current government-wide research and development budget of $6.4 billion. Alexander has a much more modest proposal.
“I’m for doubling energy research, but that costs about $5 billion,” Alexander said at a hearing on the Energy Department’s budget proposal. “If we double that, it would be $10 billion,” he said. “And we’re talking about where do we find the money.”
“But we’re subsidizing windmills for the 23rd year,” which costs the government about $4 billion, Alexander said. “Two decades ought to be long enough to turn that into a mature technology. Why isn’t the place to get the money for doubling clean energy research by phasing out subsidies for mature technologies?”
The wind and solar credits were extended for five years in a staggered phaseout, which Moniz defended at the hearing.
“Well, there is certain levels of maturing,” Moniz said. “Of course, we were very pleased with the extensions of the wind and solar credits over a fixed time in December.”
“The continuing incentive, we think, is very important,” he added. “It’s the combination of technology and deployment that right now is helping to drop cost quite dramatically.” He said the administration supports reducing “many of the fossil fuel subsidies,” but not those for renewable energy.
“Why shouldn’t we do that?” Alexander asked repeatedly. “But what about the windmills? They don’t produce much energy and 22-23 years ought to be long enough to allow them to become competitive, and that’s $4 billion over 10 years right there.”
“Well, if we got rid of them we could use them for clean energy research,” he said. “We’ve got to set priorities somewhere.”
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