Technology

Trump’s budget proposal is out, and he really wants to kill ARPA-E

(Source: arstechnica.com)

On Monday afternoon, the Trump administration released a budget proposal (PDF), including new figures for the Department of Energy (DOE). This budget proposal is just an opening salvo—Congress must approve the budget before it takes effect, and without a doubt there will be negotiations over the details. This year’s suggested changes to the DOE budget track the ones found in the president’s first budget proposal in 2017. Notably, the proposed budget yet again eliminates the popular Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (or ARPA-E) program, which has funded early-stage energy research through a federal grant program for years.

The main text of the budget proposal says the DOE ought to receive $29 billion, down from about $30.1 billion, but an addendum text adds another $1.533 billion to the DOE budget, which would reflect a budget increase of about $500 million over what the DOE received in 2017.

However, despite a relatively stagnant budget for the DOE, renewable energy programs will be cut dramatically beyond the elimination of ARPA-E. Under the plan, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy sees its budget cut from around $2 billion to $696 million (PDF).

ARPA-E and others on the chopping block

ARPA-E was slated for elimination in Trump’s budget proposal last year, but Congress ended up allotting the energy projects incubator $15 million more than it was initially supposed to receive. The program provides grants to early-stage energy-related startups in every state, so red states and blue states alike benefit. ARPA-E has successfully funded not just renewable energy programs but also energy efficiency research and vehicle fuel research.

But this year the Trump administration is trying to kill it again, eliminating the entirety of the program’s $305 million from the DOE’s budget. In a document detailing the elimination (PDF), the administration writes: “there has been concern about the potential for ARPA-E’s efforts to overlap with Research & Development (R&D) being carried out, or which should be carried out, by the private sector.” (On the contrary, ARPA-E’s directive is to fund technology that is uniquely too early in its development for private sector funding.)

The document goes on to say that the Energy Department should redirect any unobligated balances in ARPA-E’s coffers and transfer any remaining contracts elsewhere in the DOE, “to ensure full closure of ARPA-E by mid-2020.”

Other programs that the Trump administration wants to kill include the Title XVII Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, which provides loan guarantees for clean energy programs; the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program, which admittedly has not provided a new loan since 2011; and the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program (PDF), which works on “tribal energy sufficiency.” The administration says all those programs can be managed by the private sector.

Even if the administration is able to kill ARPA-E, there’s still money set aside for federally funded research. The $1.5 billion addendum allocates $1.2 billion to “fundamental scientific research” pertaining to “America’s energy future,” although details on that are slim. Other items in that addendum include an additional $200 million for Fossil Energy Research and Development to fund “research and development (R&D) of clean coal technologies,” on top of the $300 million R&D budget that the Office of Fossil Energy would already receive through the proposed budget.

A mere $120 million of the addendum’s dollars would be definitively dedicated to “sustainable transportation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency technologies” including “energy storage, renewable generation, smart buildings, and electric vehicles.”

What is being funded?

The Department of Energy is responsible for the nation’s nuclear stockpile, and a lot of the funding would go to maintaining and upgrading that.

“The Budget makes significant investments in design and construction of facilities, with an emphasis on infrastructure related to strategic materials (e.g., uranium, plutonium, tritium, lithium) that are critical to the nuclear weapons stockpile,” the proposal notes. It also includes funding for efforts to remove nuclear materials from insecure areas around the world “and helping countries develop strong programs to secure those that remain.”

Additionally, $445 million will be dedicated to exascale computing and $105 million will be dedicated to quantum computing advancements. $757 million will be dedicated to advancing nuclear energy, “prioritizing support for early-stage R&D on advanced reactor technologies, including small modular reactors, and advanced instrumentation and manufacturing methods.” The proposed budget also will include money to find an interim storage program for nuclear waste while the administration pushes forward with the licensing of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain geologic repository, which has been proposed as a long-term storage site. New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which houses nuclear waste from weapons development, is also funded through the DOE.

Finally, about $180 million of the DOE budget would be dedicated to grid modernization, “a joint effort funded by the Office of Electricity Delivery, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response.”

More Info: arstechnica.com

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