Senate’s Energy Bill Increases Support for Research, Tech Transfer

April 28, 2016

In its first passage of a broad energy bill since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the U.S. Senate included provisions in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 (S.2012) that would: increase the authorization level for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science by 5 percent per year to $7.1 billion; increase the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program’s authorization level to $375 million in 2020, up from $291 million this year; help remove barriers for technology transfer at the federal laboratories; and, authorize the DOE to establish “microlabs” in close proximity to federal labs in support of regional innovation. The bipartisan legislation was approved by a vote of 85 to 12.

The Energy Policy Modernization Act would set policy and nonbinding funding levels for a variety of government programs, including research, according to Science. Two sections in the bill would also create DOE technology transfer programs. One of these programs would permit the use of funds authorized to support DOE technology transfer activities to be used to carry out early stage and pre-commercial technology demonstration. Another would seek to address the barriers for technology transfer from the national laboratories to small businesses.

The Act would also authorize the DOE to establish “microlabs”, small laboratories accessible to the public and located in close proximity to national laboratories. These microlabs would focus on: enhancing collaboration with regional research groups (e.g., institutions for higher education, industry groups); accelerating tech transfer from the labs to the market place; and, promoting regional workforce development through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics instruction and training.

Additional highlights of the legislation include:

  • Boosting conservation standards and energy efficiency for federal buildings;
  • Giving the DOE deadlines as a means to expedite federal decisions for energy projects, such as liquid natural gas export terminals, hydropower dam licensing, and electrical transmission line developments;
  • $500 million for a 10-year research program focused on developing large-scale energy storage capabilities, with an emphasis on how to support renewable energy; and,
  • Additional funds for work on cybersecurity related to the nation’s electrical grid.

Although the bill received support from a variety of groups, including United States Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Alliance to Save Energy, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, there was criticism from some groups that the bill does not align closely enough to the scientific realities of 2016, according to the New York Times. Additionally, the White House indicated concern in a Statement of Administration Policy about some aspects of the bill, including provisions it said would “repeal existing DOE programs that aim to improve efficiency at manufacturing facilities” and “eliminate DOE oversight of certain technology demonstration and commercial activity at National Laboratories.”

The bipartisan bill must now be reconciled with The North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 8), which was passed by the House of Representatives in December 2015. 

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