Proponents of hydrogen fuel cells — the third fastest growing clean energy industry behind solar and biomass — expect to cite the technology’s benefits for improving reactor safety following the nuclear crisis in Japan as the industry prepares to lobby Congress to reverse President Obama’s proposed budget cuts for fuel-cell development, sources say.
Proponents of hydrogen fuel cells — the third fastest growing clean energy industry behind solar and biomass — expect to cite the technology’s benefits for improving reactor safety following the nuclear crisis in Japan as the industry prepares to lobby Congress to reverse President Obama’s proposed budget cuts for fuel-cell development, sources say. The Department of Energy is planning to “de-obligate” appropriated funds for fuel cell development in order to shift that money in support of electric vehicles.
The lobbying push comes as the House and Senate prepare to examine DOE’s budget priorities at a series of hearings next week that are expected to include discussion of the nuclear accident in Japan and its impact on energy technology developments in the United States, congressional sources say.
The industry is launching two efforts to head off budget cuts, say proponents. First, it will reach out to appropriators to ensure FY2011 levels, or more, for hydrogen. Second, the industry will urge fuel cell advocates in the Senate and House, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), to put pressure on Energy Secretary Steven Chu to avoid de-obligating funds.
Fuel cell industry lobbyists plan to argue that development of the technology could help avoid the power outages that led to the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant by providing a source of backup generation for the cooling system that relies on hydrogen fuel produced on site. Sources say the industry is expected to argue that continued funding for the DOE hydrogen program could improve the safety of the U.S. nuclear fleet.
A House budget committee source says federal programs to promote the production of hydrogen at nuclear reactors still have support among appropriators, but the lack of a clear national energy policy and budget constraints have hindered development of the technology. The source says the role of fuel cell-powered vehicles is also likely to attract attention as the national average price of gasoline is expected to reach $5 a gallon by summer, bolstering new arguments for all alternative fuels.
Nevertheless, the fuel cell industry fears Secretary Chu will shift funds to electric vehicles as lawmakers continue to struggle with a final budget for fiscal year 2011. “We are concerned that the secretary will go ahead and de-obligate existing funding before Congress gets a chance to vote,” says an industry source.
Also, a new wave of cuts in the FY2012 budget request further indicate DOE’s preference for electric vehicles. DOE has proposed doubling funds for electric vehicles, while cutting by 40 percent funding for hydrogen, industry sources note.
The hydrogen industry has been successful in recent fights to maintain funding in previous Obama administration budgets that sought to de-fund fuel cell programs, including attempts to zero out funding for hydrogen and fuel cell-powered cars. But the FY2012 budget request and an increasingly tight fiscal climate on Capitol Hill offer even tougher challenges for the industry this year, say industry sources.
DOE does, however, acknowledge the benefit of being able to produce hydrogen from a variety of feedstocks as beneficial to energy independence and continues to support research and development for hydrogen production from solar and biomass, according to its budget justification document. At the same time, it also says that it has cut funding in half or reallocated spending “to higher priority programs.”