Moniz clears Senate committee, senators carp about DOE budget

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said April 18 that the committee voted to favorably report the nomination of Dr. Ernest Moniz to serve as Secretary of Energy.

“Dr. Moniz could become the first Secretary of Energy who, instead of having to confront energy shortages and scarcity, instead would oversee an era of abundant carbon-reducing natural gas and dramatic growth of renewable energy technologies,” Wyden said. “From my experience working with Dr. Moniz, I believe he is more than up to the challenges that our country is going to face in this historic transition for our energy sector.”

The committee approved the nomination by a vote of 21 to 1. The nomination now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.

At the same April 18 committee session, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the ranking Republican on the panel, said the Department of Energy’s (DOE) $28.4bn budget proposal for the 2014 fiscal year fails to support the kind of comprehensive policies needed to improve the nation’s security and return its economic vitality.

“While the administration has repeatedly pledged to support an ‘all of the above’ energy policy, I still do not see that reflected here,” Murkowski told Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman at the DOE budget hearing.

Murkowski questioned Poneman on the department’s declining support for unconventional fossil energy technologies and lack of emphasis on marine hydrokinetics and hydropower research, despite the promise these sources of energy hold. Under Murkowski’s questioning, Poneman testified that the department’s Office of Fossil Energy is working “as quickly as they possibly can” to review applications for additional liquefied gas export facilities.

“Finding ways to develop and improve the recovery of the vast amounts of unconventional resources such as oil shale, heavy oil, tar sands and methane hydrates locked in reservoirs throughout the United States is critical to our efforts to reduce our reliance on OPEC oil. Yet, the budget request once again zeros out funding for the unconventional fossil energy technologies program,” Murkowski said. “This budget cuts research and development for fossil energy by over $90 million. What is the rationale for deemphasizing innovative oil and gas technology when it is precisely fossil fuels that are helping revitalize America’s industry, boost our exports and create jobs?”

Murkowski earlier this year released her own blueprint for U.S. energy independence. Murkowski’s Energy 20/20 plan includes more than 200 policy recommendations. “At the top of my list is greater domestic energy production – of every form of energy,” Murkowski said. “New production will not only make our energy supplies more affordable, but also bring new revenues for the federal treasury.”

DOE witness says budget supports various areas, including nuclear

In the nuclear budget area for DOE, Poneman said in his prepared statement: “Currently, nuclear energy supplies approximately 20 percent of the Nation’s electricity and over 60 percent of clean, non-carbon producing electricity. Over 100 nuclear power plants are offering reliable and affordable baseload electricity in the United States, and they are doing so without air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The budget request invests $735 million in the nuclear energy program to help develop the next-generation of nuclear power technologies, including small modular reactors and improved light water reactor systems, and continue R&D efforts in areas such as improved fuel forms. The Budget also provides $60 million to support the Administration’s Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High Level Radioactive Waste, which provides a framework for moving toward a sustainable program to deploy an integrated system capable of transporting, storing and disposing of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.”

Poneman said the budget request also supports the five existing Energy Innovation Hubs and proposes a new Hub in electricity systems. “Through the Hubs, we are bringing together our nation’s top scientists and engineers to achieve game-changing energy goals,” he added. “The Hubs continue to make progress. For example, the Modeling and Simulation for Nuclear Reactors Hub has released the first versions of software that, support simulating a virtual model of an operating physical reactor. The Fuels from Sunlight Hub has filed multiple invention disclosures and published scientific papers. And the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub is developing advanced building modeling tools and has built one of the country’s first 3-D building design labs.”

Wyden, a Democrat, had some criticisms in his opening statement at the hearing about some of the White House’s budgeting for DOE.

“I do think it is important to ask for explanations about why the DOE budget has such dramatic reductions in fossil energy and nuclear energy, and to a lesser extent in water power and fuel cells,” Wyden noted. “The DOE budget never seems to be complete without the Department cutting funding Congress has added for water power and fuel cells. These are technologies that the private sector is anxious to move on quickly. Our competitors around the world are ramping up their investments in these areas. Despite that, this year appears to be no exception to what clearly are misguided cuts.”

Wyden added: “Year over year, funding for fossil energy research is cut over $74 million, or 15%. Sure, the fossil budget includes a new program for collaboration with EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop safer fracking technologies. But, the $17 million budgeted for this program doesn’t begin to reflect the importance of addressing the challenges of improving the way fracking is done and the implications that has for U.S. energy production and competitiveness.”

Year over year, funding for nuclear energy research was cut $123.6m or 16%, Wyden added. “In the wake of the decision to cancel the Yucca Mountain repository, it is hard to understand how it makes sense to reduce funding on nuclear fuel cycle research. Earlier this week, the Department announced a program to develop spent fuel storage technologies for high-burnup fuel of $15.8 million stretched over five years. Certainly better late than never, but like Department’s efforts on fracking, the level of effort proposed doesn’t seem to me to begin to match the importance of the challenge.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.