Skip to main content

Bush to Create Advanced Energy Research Agency

President George W. Bush signed last week a law that could place the government on the forefront of cutting-edge advanced renewable energy research, but it's unclear whether such an an agency will receive any funding.

On Aug. 9, the president signed the America COMPETES Act, which includes a provision authorizing the creation of a new advanced energy research program through the Department of Energy (DOE).

The bill authorizes up to $300 million in fiscal 2008 for the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E). The National Academies, which recommended ARPA-E's creation in an October 2005 report, called for "creative, out-of-the-box, transformational, generic energy research in those areas where industry itself cannot or will not undertake such sponsorship, where risks and potential payoffs are high, and where success could provide dramatic benefits for the nation."

The report recommended the program be modeled after DARPA, which was established in 1958 after the Soviet launch of the Sputnik to make sure the U.S. maintained an edge in using innovative technologies for military capabilities. DARPA projects include the Grand Challenge, where robotically controlled vehicles avoided obstacles while navigating across rough desert roads.

It is not clear, however, whether Congress will approve spending the initial $300 million on ARPA-E, the DOE said. The National Academies had recommended funding increase to $1 billion over five years.

The president himself voiced concern over some aspects of the America COMPETES Act.

"These are important steps forward, and so I'm going to sign the bill," he said Aug. 9. "I'm looking forward to it. Yet the bill Congress sent to my desk leaves some of the key priorities unfulfilled, and authorizes unnecessary and duplicative programs."

A White House fact sheet also suggested the bill, and ARPA-E, is flawed.

"The bill creates over 30 new programs that are mostly duplicative or counterproductive — including a new Department of Energy agency to fund late-stage technology development more appropriately left to the private sector — and also provides excessive authorization for existing programs," the fact sheet said.

His proposed fiscal 2009 budget will not include proposals for "excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in the bill."

More on this topic