NEW RENEWABLE ENERGY REPORT CALLS GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR COMMERCIALIZATION ESSENTIAL, CRITICIZES CONGRESSIONAL CUTBACKS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 27, 1996 NEW RENEWABLE ENERGY REPORT CALLS GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR COMMERCIALIZATION ESSENTIAL, CRITICIZES CONGRESSIONAL CUTBACKS While debate continues in Congress over the future of renewable energy, a new report released today by Public Citizen shows that government policies designed to bring new technologies into the market are essential to the successful development of alternative energy sources. After reviewing the experience of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) wind and ocean thermal programs, the study concludes that government policy must couple laboratory research with strategic efforts to deploy new technologies in cooperation with the private sector. Key Congressional committees have recently criticized DOE’s efforts to develop new renewable energy technologies with private companies and recommended funding cutbacks in the fiscal year 1997 budget. “America has a vital interest in renewable energy, and government should work cooperatively with industry to manufacture and market new technologies,” said Lisa Brooks, Researcher for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project. “If Congress succeeds in cutting off funds for commercialization, research efforts at DOE will be undermined and the prospects for clean energy will be placed at risk.” The report, Renewable Energy Sourcebook: A Primer for Action – Section II: Wind and Ocean Energy, finds that current DOE programs have benefitted from difficult lessons learned during the 1970s and 80s by ensuring that federal money is used to leverage substantial private investment in new technology development. This approach, according to the authors, is essential to avoid the problems experienced in the early wind and ocean energy programs. Early wind programs in the late 1970s rushed to build large-scale machines prematurely and fully funded the work of large defense contractors at the expense of smaller, more innovative companies. When government funding for the large prototypes ended, defense contractors lost interest and failed to invest their own money. Not one of the companies funded to develop a large prototype is actively designing or manufacturing wind technologies today. At the other end of the spectrum, government support for ocean thermal technologies failed to include working with private sector partners and the program never provided sufficient information on how the systems would perform. DOE severely scaled back support for ocean energy in 1981 just as the program was set to share the costs of building full-scale plants with private companies. According to the authors, “had this effort gone forward, federal support for ocean energy technologies could have become a major success story.” Instead, ocean energy systems never made it into commercial production. “DOE’s failure to commercialize ocean energy systems stands as a stark example of the risks inherent in abandoning new technologies without providing adequate follow-through,” said Matthew Freedman, Energy Policy Analyst with Public Citizen. “We cannot afford any more missed opportunities with wind and other renewable energy technologies.” Renewable energy programs were slashed by 30 percent last year, and some members are poised to cut even further into DOE’s work with small renewable energy businesses. In the Fiscal Year 1997 House Budget Resolution, Budget Committee Vice-Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA) called for phasing out federal support for bringing emerging renewable energy and efficiency technologies into the marketplace while still providing ample funding for corporate giants like Westinghouse and General Electric to work on new nuclear reactor designs. “Bob Walker would take us back to the failed energy policies of the Reagan years. By prematurely dropping support for renewable energy programs, Congress would sabotage the last two decades of federal research,” said Freedman. “The renewable energy industries are still in their infancy and face many barriers to competing with conventional energy technologies. Repeating the mistakes of the early 1980s would only harm small, innovative companies that promise to be the engine of future economic growth, jobs and exports.” The Public Citizen report praises DOE’s current wind energy commercialization strategy and concludes that “DOE support will be critical to ensuring that the next generation of wind technologies meets the needs of new buyers, varied resource conditions and severe cost pressures.” The need for government involvement is enhanced by the uncertainty resulting from electric utility restructuring, which has “caused utilities to virtually halt investments in new power plants, especially wind energy facilities.” In light of concerns over the pollution and price volatility associated with fossil and nuclear fuels, the report concludes that “the increased use of renewable resources will move the nation towards a more sustainable energy path that will result in a cleaner environment, economic growth and affordable prices for consumers.” Copies of the Renewable Energy Sourcebook: A Primer for Action – Section II: Wind and Ocean Programs are available for $15 from the Public Citizen publications office (202-588-1000). Discounts are available for public interest organizations.