A Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee will consider nine energy and climate policy bills this week, covering topics from engineering education and wind energy research to carbon capture technology development incentives and biofuels for small engines.
Many of the bills would authorize research spending at the Energy Department, and DOE Undersecretary Kristina Johnson will testify before the Energy Subcommittee. Five of the bills have already passed the House this year.
Among the bills up for discussion is a measure (H.R. 3585) that would guide a DOE solar energy research program and would authorize more than $2 billion for solar research and development projects.
Under the legislation, DOE would appoint a team of experts to develop a long-term solar energy research plan for its transition to commercial use. The panel of experts would direct DOE on a portion of the authorized spending for fiscal 2011-2015.
"The United States has some of the best solar resources in the world, and they aren't unique to the Southwest," Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the bill's sponsor, said on the House floor in October when the bill passed 310-106. "If our policies and innovation models don't change, the U.S. is going to transition from importing foreign oil to importing foreign [solar] panels."
The Senate panel will also consider H.R. 2729, a bill that would formally authorize and fund seven National Environmental Research Parks at DOE laboratories. It would provide $5 million a year to each park through 2014, establish a research park coordinator and direct DOE's Office of Science to lead the program.
"These parks have been providing environmental scientists with unique, undisturbed environments for conducting research since they were first established in the early 1970s," Rep. Ben Luján (D-N.M.), who introduced the bill, said during a House Science and Technology subcommittee hearing this summer. "[My bill] will provide core funding and an organizational structure to support the important works of these parks" E&E Daily, June 10).
That bill passed in the House 330-96 in July.
H.R. 3165 would authorize $200 million in annual spending over five years for DOE's wind energy research program to focus on several technology areas, including materials and design of turbine blades, offshore applications, and improvement of performance and reliability. It would also authorize a wind energy demonstration program in collaboration with industry. That measure passed by voice vote in the House in September.
Legislation that would authorize nearly $3 billion in DOE spending for advanced vehicle technologies, such as electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, and non-road equipment is also up for discussion in the subcommittee. H.R. 3246 would appoint a full-time DOE director to coordinate research activities at the agency and would expand efforts to develop fuel-efficient commercial truck technologies. The bill passed 312-114 in the House in September.
Also up for consideration is H.R. 957), which would support the training of engineers and architects in energy efficient building design. It would authorize DOE to fund National Science Foundation grants for graduate-level multidisciplinary research programs in energy efficiency. The grants would be geared toward laboratory activities, training courses or design projects. The House passed the bill, 411-6, in April.
The subcommittee will consider four original Senate bills, including S. 2744, which would establish monetary prizes to researchers who develop ways to suck carbon dioxide directly from the air. The measure is intended to encourage technology development.
The legislation comes as scientists and engineers are scaling up methods to capture CO2 from industrial sources like coal-fired power plants. The bill from Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) would promote development of additional technologies to scrub the gases directly from the air or to take them from other sources, like oil refineries, that have lower concentrations than power plants and factories.
"If we could capture carbon dioxide emitted by low-concentration sources, or even the atmosphere, it would be a major step toward a cleaner energy future," Bingaman said last month. "A federal prize to inspire inventive solutions to this technical challenge could help us get there quicker" (E&ENews PM, Nov. 12).
The subcommittee will take up two bills introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), including S. 737 that would expand current federal ethanol research and development efforts to include research into making biofuels compatible for use in small, non-road engines, like chainsaws and handheld trimmers.
DOE tests have shown that increased ethanol content in smaller engines can affect performance, is more corrosive and less efficient than traditional gasoline blends.
S. 2773, also from Collins, would require DOE to support research and development of offshore wind technologies at universities and other facilities to the tune of $50 million a year over 10 years.
The spending would be geared toward design, demonstration and deployment of advanced turbine foundations; full-scale testing of offshore wind components and systems; assessments of U.S. offshore wind resources, environmental impacts and benefits; and development of advanced blade manufacturing, among other activities.
The subcommittee will also consider S. 1617, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), that would provide federal grants to states that set up loan funds to help small and mid-sized manufacturers improve energy efficiency and produce clean energy technology.
Schedule: The hearing is tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. in 366 Dirksen.
Witness: Kristina Johnson, undersecretary, Department of Energy.