Clean Energy in State of the Union

Today my wife commented that I should be thrilled because of support shown for renewables by the the President in his State of the Union address. She seldom takes an active interest in energy matters and was clearly influenced by the rhetoric surrounding the speech, so should I?

My first response is is of course! It is much better to be seen as part of the solution than part of the problem. However it still does not fill me with joy.


  • The monies proposed for renewables in 2007 are not large: $148 million for photovoltaics, $44 million for wind, $150 million for biofuels (read ethanol), $30 million for hybrid batteries and $289 million for hydrogen and fuel cells.
  • The funding is for R&D and seems out of sync. with the previously announced 15% reduction in funding for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that will cause it to lose 40 researchers!
  • “another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025 ” and the only initiatives he announced that would address this were the biofuels, hydrogen and hybrid batteries. Even though I am an optimist in matters of clean energy this feels like wishful thinking.
  • One of the largest R&D initiatives ($281 million) is aimed at “zero-emission coal-fired plants” that sequester the produced carbon dioxide. This makes a kind of sense given that coal is the main source of power generation in the US and, since the President has shown himself unwilling to commit to the Kyoto Protocol, this shows that he will achieve pollution reduction by other means. Right?
  • Lastly, I am left a little uneasy by his mention of “clean, safe nuclear energy” as part of his plan.
  • Given that the US generating capacity is currently primarily driven by coal, natural gas, hydro and nuclear the latter two initiatives could be interpreted as a move to reduce US dependence on expensive natural gas, but otherwise continue as usual.

Don’t get me wrong! I have nothing against the funding proposals for renewable energy although I am less enamored of the other proposals in the package. However the fruits of research are unpredictable and seldom quick! I am not convinced these proposals will achieve the goals they are supposed to address and I suspect they will be no more successful than past initiatives. Still, I guess my wife was right in one sense – as they say, “any publicity is good publicity!”