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Understanding Obama's Budget Proposal for Clean Energy and Climate Investments

Joseph Nyangon, PhD's picture
Senior Researcher University of Delaware

Dr. Joseph Nyangon is a Senior Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Engineering Systems at the University of Delaware and a non-resident fellow of the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Apr 21, 2015

President Obama has released a $4 trillion budget proposal for FY 2016. It contains a range of programs designed to encourage deployment of the next generation clean energy and energy efficiency technologies. Here are the top five things to know about the budget in terms of clean energy and environmental investments:

1. Clean Power State Incentive Fund
The U.S. President proposes a $4 billion incentive fund to encourage states to make faster and deeper cuts in carbon emissions from electricity, than would be required under the Clean Power Plan. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to administer the Clean Power State Incentive Fund, which would enable states to invest in activities that advance and complement the agency’s Clean Power Plan. The administration outlines several goals, including addressing impacts from environmental pollution in low-income communities to supporting businesses to catalyze investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and combined heat and power. The budget also includes $239 million to support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions programs at the EPA. In particular, $25 million would be used to help states develop their Clean Power Plan strategies.

2. Permanent extension of renewable energy investment tax credits
The renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) has been an important lifeline for the wind industry in the United States. It expired at the end of 2013 and Congress agreed to a one-year extension, which expired in 2014. Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), has called on Congress to extend the PTC, noting that “Investing in wind power makes sense and that the Production Tax Credit is the right policy to continue growing this abundant, homegrown resource.” The FY 2016 budget proposal concurs, proposing a long-term and stable clean energy policy based on a permanent extension of solar and wind investment tax incentives, and reforming the incentives to make them simpler and more efficient. A separate incentive scheme for solar, the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which authorized a 30% tax credit through 2016 before falling to 10% thereafter is set to expire at the end of 2018. The administration has proposed a permanent extension.

3. Increased investment in clean energy technologies and R&D
The administration has proposed an investment of $7.4 billion in pollution-cutting technologies—an increase of nearly 7% from the $6.5 billion allocation in the FY 2015, for clean energy programs and sustainable technologies. These investments in solar, wind, low-carbon fossil fuels, and energy-efficiency initiatives primarily cover programs at the departments of Energy, Defense, Agriculture, and the National Science Foundation. Examples of the programs outlined in the budget include investment in electric vehicles to enhance their affordability and convenience; improvement in building efficiency programs; climate proofing electric power grid such as storm hardening, flood-proofing, installing higher temperature-rated transformers and replacing underground transformers with saltwater submersible types; carbon capture and storage; and investment in research and development (R&D) to measure and mitigate fugitive methane emissions from natural gas systems.

4. Advancing international climate negotiations efforts and investing in the Green Climate Fund
The budget also provides $1.29 billion to advance the goals of the Global Climate Change Initiative and the President’s Climate Action Plan (which supports bilateral and multilateral engagement with major and emerging economies). This includes $500 million for U.S. contributions to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help catalyze additional private sector support for international climate action, and $230 million for the Climate Investment Fund. So far, the GCF has received pledges totaling $10.2 billion from countries such as Japan, South Korea, Norway, Mexico, Sweden, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Mongolia, and more.

5. Energy and climate resilience
The budget contains a panoply of provisions designed to help vulnerable parts of the country enhance their energy and climate resilience and preparedness, including increased investments in community and ecosystem resilience, and better understanding of the projected impacts of climate change. For example, allocation of $400 million for National Flood Insurance Program Risk Mapping efforts, an increase of $184 million over FY 2015 funding levels. Additional funding has been proposed to tackle coastal resilience, wildfires and drought resilience. These include: $50 million towards the NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, $89 million to promote water conservation efforts, and $200 million to FEMA primarily for mitigation planning and facilities hardening, an increase of $175 million over current funding levels.

A cross-country theme in the clean energy programs supported by the Obama budget proposal is the need for federal and private funding for R&D. The United States enjoyed remarkable success recently because of pharmaceutical and biomedical research (even if proponents of the free-market often less understand it). From securitizing energy efficiency retrofits to unlocking capital in private equity and pension funds to harnessing green bonds, investment in R&D to fund projects targeting climate resilience and low-carbon technologies is crucial to achieving simultaneously the objectives of economic growth and sustainable development. It is why analyzing the trend in federal budgetary allocation for clean energy investment is vital for understanding signals of long-term economic transformation. In every dimension of clean energy economic growth there is a critical technological need, which must be underpinned by increasing capital flow in basic scientific research.

This article was first published by CEEP

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