Feb 20, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Bush visit to heat up debates on energy
Critics say plans don't give enough immediate relief
February 20, 2006
BY JUSTIN HYDE and KATHLEEN GRAY
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
George W. Bush will visit an Auburn Hills plant today.
President George W. Bush plans to tour an Auburn Hills plant today as part of a campaign touting his energy proposals he says will lessen American dependence on foreign oil in the future. But critics say the plans will do little to reduce energy costs anytime soon.
Bush is set to visit United Solar Ovonic, which develops solar panels as a subsidiary of Rochester Hills-based Energy Conversion Devices Inc. On Tuesday, Bush plans to visit the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and take part in a discussion on energy conservation and efficiency.
With the prices of heating homes and fueling cars still sharply higher than a year earlier, Bush has been eager to promote his administration's efforts to find new sources of energy.
"We will pursue promising technologies that will transform how we power our vehicles, businesses and homes -- so we can reduce our nation's dependence on foreign sources of energy," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address.
Although the president's 2007 budget proposal includes increases for research on solar, nuclear, hydrogen and wind power, it also includes cuts for research in other areas, such as improving the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks. The proposed increase for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Fuels is 0.2% -- $2.6 million over the previous year's $1.2-billion total.
And the energy lab Bush will visit Tuesday laid off 32 people, including eight researchers, this month because of a $28-million shortfall in this year's budget. Lab officials said the layoffs came because Congress directed money toward energy research labs in other states.
Bill Prindle, policy director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit research center, said the administration's budget focuses on long-term research at the expense of short-term projects that might have a greater impact on energy costs.
"The administration appears to be shifting money around, but it's not really moving the ball forward," he said. "To really transform the American energy economy, you have to be spending several billion dollars a year for a sustained period to really accelerate research, development and deployment."
Congressional Democrats called Bush's proposals little comfort to people who are paying dramatically higher prices for gas and heat.
"Unfortunately, while he's talking the talk about solutions, he's not walking the walk by including adequate funding for these initiatives in the budget he presented," said U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee. "Maybe a walk in Michigan's freezing conditions will help put into perspective the fact that Michigan families are paying record-high home energy costs and struggling to make ends meet."
An initial analysis of the energy budget by Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce shows that the amounts Bush suggested are actually $300 million less than those authorized in the energy bill Congress passed last year.
It also notes that low-interest home energy assistance loans for residential weatherization projects have been cut by $78 million, and that the home heating assistance program for low-income residents is funded at a level much lower than called for in the energy bill Congress passed.
The Public Interest Research Group in Michigan said the president's proposals take baby steps forward on advancing renewable energy initiatives. But in an analysis, the group found that the budget continues to fund "old, expensive, dirty technology at the expense of faster, cheaper, cleaner methods," said spokesman Jason Barbose.
U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, said he's delighted that Bush has focused on renewable energy sources.
"We need reasonable sources of energy, especially for the transportation industry," he said. "What he has proposed is desperately needed."
The proposal includes:
# $289 million for hydrogen vehicle and fuel technology, a $56-million increase from this year's budget, with a goal of making hydrogen vehicles available to consumers by 2020.
# $150 million for biomass and biofuels research, up $59 million. This includes research to boost ethanol production toward a target of replacing 30% of current gasoline demand by 2030.
# $148 million for solar energy research, $65 million more than last year. The administration says it wants solar power to generate enough electricity for 1 million to 2 million homes by 2015.
# $250 million for a new program, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, aimed at encouraging nuclear power.
To offset those increases, the president's budget includes cuts elsewhere. It calls for vehicle technology research at the Department of Energy to be cut $16 million, to $166 million. More of the remaining funds would be spent researching plug-in hybrid vehicles, for which automakers have shown little enthusiasm.
Contact JUSTIN HYDE at 202-906-8204 or jhyde@....
President Bush's energy proposals
Subject to congressional approval
sunlight to electricity.
from agricultural waste products, such as wood chips, stalks and switch grass.
extend the range of hybrid vehicles.
affordable hydrogen-powered cars.
What's been cut
Lab puts energy into fuel options
By Dave Curtin
Denver Post Staff Writer
2/20/2006 01:00 AM
Michael Pacheco runs the third-largest brewery in Colorado - but he doesn't make beer. He takes cornstalks and bark and turns them into fuel for an automobile.
Nearby, John Rugh is trying to cool down a dummy named Adam, who sweats distilled water while sitting in a Dodge Neon heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit by banks of lights.
Both efforts are part of the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory's attempt to change how much and what type of energy Americans use.
Tuesday, President Bush is coming to the NREL - the country's premier alternative-energy lab - three weeks after saying in his State of the Union address that the nation is "addicted to oil."
"It's one of the few places on the planet where you have scientists brought together in all aspects of renewable energy," said Scott Sklar, president of the Stella Group, an energy consulting group in Washington. "It's everything from an idea factory to actual application in the market."
Still, the NREL's budget dropped $22.5 million this year and was set to fall another $11 million next year. Two weeks ago, 32 people were laid off.
But Sunday, the Department of Energy announced those jobs were restored, effective immediately, by shifting unused funds from other accounts.
And the president is arriving with a revised budget that will boost the lab's funding by $15 million as part of his Advanced Energy Initiative.
Funding for biofuels - for which Pacheco brews his cornstalk fuel - is targeted to double to $27.5 million from its current level.
Meanwhile, the hybrid-car lab - home of Adam, the sweating dummy - is looking at a cut of almost 40 percent for the next fiscal year.
It's a tale of two labs - both doing cutting-edge research but only one getting new money.
The NREL began operating in 1977 and has 900 employees, including 600 scientists, working in eight major research labs on a 327-acre campus off Interstate 70.
The lab is home to national centers for bioenergy, wind technology and photovoltaics, which convert sunlight to electricity.
When Rugh, 42, enters the advanced-vehicle lab, where Adam the dummy sits in the Dodge Neon, he dons sunglasses to deflect the rays of the halide floodlights baking the passenger compartment.
Rugh's goal is to figure out how to better cool that compartment and stop Adam - the Advanced Automotive Mannequin - from sweating.
"We get the question: Why are we working on air conditioning?" Rugh says. "President Bush spoke of reducing reliance on foreign oil. That's what we're working on."
The 237 million cars in the United States use 7 billion gallons of fuel a year for air conditioning. That's 9.5 percent of foreign oil imports.
Air conditioning reduces fuel economy by 20 percent in conventional cars, Rugh says. So scientists are trying to harness heat from the engine and exhaust to produce cooling and reduce fuel devoted to air conditioning by 75 percent.
The lab is also working on fuel- cell vehicles and plug-in hybrid cars that can be recharged in your garage at night.
NREL scientists working with automakers helped bring today's 420,000 hybrids to the road beginning in 1999.
Scientists in the vehicle-technologies lab declined to comment on the impact of the projected 38 percent cut in funding.
"Science is a long-term effort," NREL spokesman George Douglas said, "and the uncertainty of funding is not the best way to go about it."
The bioenergy lab will fare much better under Bush's proposal.
Pacheco brews ethanol in 2,300- gallon tanks at the National Bioenergy Center's two-story, $10 million refinery, which uses corn husks, wheat straw, sawdust and other agricultural wastes.
"The process is similar to making beer. Instead of hops and grains, we use nonedible biomass," says Pacheco, 49, director of the center.
Scientists cultivate yeast to ferment the concoction into fuel-grade ethanol. The brew is the second generation of bioethanol fuel and doesn't compete for the nation's corn supply.
"All the research is nonedible biomass, so we avoid the fuel-versus- food competition," Pacheco says.
Today, about 100 plants around the nation make ethanol from corn kernels, consuming 13 percent of the U.S. corn crop to produce 3 percent of the fuel supply, Pacheco says.
Bush is proposing that 30 percent to 40 percent of the nation's fuel should come from ethanol and plans to double NREL biomass funds to make it happen.
"Ethanol really is a good way to reduce the dependence on foreign oil," Pacheco says. "That's why the president is getting behind it."
Critics question whether the energy savings from biofuel outweigh the energy spent in collection, storage, transportation and production.
The NREL says the return on corn ethanol against energy spent is 40 percent, a finding similar to a Department of Agriculture study's.
It costs $2.50 a gallon to make ethanol from biomass. Pacheco's goal is to reduce the cost in five years to less than $1.10 - the cost to make corn ethanol.
"We're close to the finish line," Pacheco says. "We'll have it out the door and commercialized in five years."
Staff writer Dave Curtin can be reached at 303-820-1276 or dcurtin@....
Bush's energy push
Today: President Bush arrives in Colorado late this afternoon as part
of a mission to tout alternative energy sources. He begins the day
with a speech in Milwaukee, then tours a solar-energy plant in Auburn
Tuesday: Bush visits the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.