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Biden seeks big hikes for DOE clean energy, nuke funding

29 May 2021 Jeff Beattie

President Joe Biden released details 28 May of his proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2022, including a whopping $1.9 billion boost for Department of Energy (DOE) work on energy efficiency and renewable energy as well as a surprisingly hefty increase for its research and development of nuclear power technologies, which the administration has increasingly embraced as key to its decarbonization efforts.

But in a plan that could draw complaints from congressional Republicans, the administration sought no FY 2022 funding increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), proposing a $19.7 billion budget for DOE's semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, the same as the current fiscal year.

Biden was more generous with DOE's politically sensitive nuclear cleanup program, proposing $6.8 billion for the costly effort to address dozens of contaminated buildings and vast amounts of radioactive waste at the department's weapons sites.

In a major new initiative, the budget requested $400 million for a new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED) to "keep bringing innovative technologies to market," according to a DOE statement.

"The OCED is envisioned to issue at least one technology-neutral commercial-scale demonstration solicitation per year focused on a cross-cutting energy challenge," according to White House budget documents that said the new office would focus on energy storage in fiscal year 2022.

"In addition, the office will provide project management support to [DOE's] applied energy offices on technology scale-up and demonstration activities funded within their existing programs to ensure a consistent approach to capital-intensive, late-stage technology development while ensuring demonstration projects maximize the creation of good jobs," the documents added.

ARPA-C

The president also earmarked $200 million to establish the new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C), one of numerous new programs laced throughout the budget proposal intended to drive the US towards Biden's goal of producing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.

ARPA-C "will be critical to advancing climate technology solutions for adaptation, resilience and non-energy emissions mitigation," DOE said.

And Biden proposed $500 million—a 17% increase—for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, an incubator designed to help commercialize unproven but promising clean energy technologies.

The funding details flesh out the "skinny" budget that Biden released in early April, which all new presidents do to send an early signal to Congress on their funding priorities. At that time, Biden called for DOE to get an overall 10.2% funding hike in fiscal year 2022 to $46.1 billion and said he would seek a minimum 27 % increase over current-year DOE spending levels to spur development and deployment of new clean energy technologies ranging from advanced reactors to electric vehicles to green hydrogen.

In raw dollar increase terms, the latest budget documents show the biggest winner among the DOE's programs would be the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which would get $4.73 billion, up 65% from current spending levels. And while Congress often ignores presidential budget requests, EERE appears likely to get a substantial funding boost with Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and intently focused on expanding clean energy and accelerating decarbonization.

Biden also proposed creation of "two new Manufacturing USA institutes to ensure that American workers lead the globe in building clean energy technology," according to DOE, as well as calling for $400 million to create jobs renovating homes to save energy and reduce energy bills for low-income Americans, and $400 million to create well-paying union jobs decarbonizing federal buildings.

Extra nuclear support

Another big winner is DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, which would get a record-high $1.85 billion, a 23% jump over current-year funding. The increase reflects the Biden administration's focus on deploying advanced reactors to replace carbon-emitting generation.

That funding includes a substantial boost for the Versatile Test Reactor, a proposed fast reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory that the White House said is needed to provide US capability for accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors. Funded this year at $45 million, Biden proposed to give that effort $145 million in fiscal 2022.

Biden is also seeking $245 million for a high-profile program to support demonstration of two advanced reactor technologies under development by X-Energy and TerraPower within the next six years.

And on a controversial and long-delayed DOE program, the president sought modest funding for a "consent-based siting process" to find a host community for consolidated interim storage for the US' used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. That is one of the few things the Biden administration has said about its plans for the US' long-festering nuclear waste problem, which was worsened by the Obama administration's killing of the planned Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, a decision continued by President Donald Trump, both for political reasons.

However, the budget appears to allocate only $11 million to launch the consent-based siting process, including $3 million in leftover funds and $8 million from the Nuclear Waste Fund, down from about $20 million in total in fiscal 2021.

Meanwhile, the proposed budget would set aside a healthy $327 million for DOE's Office of Electricity, $115 million more than in the current budget, with much of that increase aimed at speeding deployment of storage needed to support growth of the intermittent renewable power on which Biden's climate goals depend. More than a third of the office's budget—$119 million—would go to storage R&D.

And in a key priority for the administration, the proposal would jack up funding for DOE's Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) by 30% year on year to $204 million. That proposed increase comes with gasoline prices still elevated from the recent ransomware shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, and on the same day Microsoft warned that Russian hackers behind the December SolarWinds cyber incursion had resumed attacks on US federal agencies and nonprofits.

Office of Fossil Energy revamp

Also getting a budget boost—and a somewhat revised mission—is DOE's renamed Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. Long known as the Office of Fossil Energy, the unit previously was focused largely on production technologies while also addressing carbon sequestration and storage. But under Biden's proposal, going forward, the office would focus almost entirely on reducing emissions from fossil fuel-fired plants and helping communities hurt by plant shutdowns as the nation moves to emission-free power, according to DOE's budget summary. For that work, the office would get $890 million, $140 million more than its current-year funding.

As for NNSA, Biden's proposal for flat funding in fiscal 2022 contrasts sharply with the hefty $3.1 billion increase that Congress gave NNSA last year when the Trump administration said the agency needed significantly more money to remain on track with hugely expensive modernization efforts for DOE's nuclear weapons production facilities and the nation's nuclear warheads, which both date from the Cold War.

Prior to approval of that increase, however, the NNSA chief under Trump—Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—said it was insufficient and sought support from key GOP senators in seeking more money. However, her criticism of the funding levels proposed by former Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette ended up getting her fired.

Biden did propose a slight increase for NNSA's weapons activities program to $15.48 billion, up from the current $15.34 billion, but that modest hike appeared to raise questions about whether the administration was fully on-board with expensive projects to increase DOE's plutonium pit production capacity.

--This article first appeared in The Energy Daily, www.theenergydaily.com.

Posted 29 May 2021 by Jeff Beattie, Reporter

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