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Summary:

In the last two days, the Department of Energy has announced $24 million worth of new investments in solar energy while also revealing it’s putting a whopping $340 million into yet more clean coal research. In conjunction with the funding announcements, the DOE says it’s “committed […]

In the last two days, the Department of Energy has announced $24 million worth of new investments in solar energy while also revealing it’s putting a whopping $340 million into yet more clean coal research. In conjunction with the funding announcements, the DOE says it’s “committed to…developing the technologies that will ensure coal can be used,” but at the same time describes solar as “an important component of our comprehensive strategy to commercialize and deploy advanced, clean, alternative technologies.”

Parsing the language indicates this administration’s bias toward clean coal, but the numbers speak even louder. Since 2001 the DOE has put more than $2.5 billion into clean coal, including millions sunk into the scuttled FutureGen project. This week’s $340 million is part of President Bush’s $2 billion, 10-Year Clean Coal Initiative, but is separate from the $1.3 billion announced with the “restructuring” of the FutureGen project.

The DOE was not able to immediately provide us with the total amount of federal funding that solar projects have received, but we do know that the agency announced $60 million earlier this year and $168 million last year for solar projects. We’re sure that’s not the entire amount, but seems to come in significantly under its clean coal budget. Update: The DOE has just gotten back to us and the official number on solar funding from the DOE since 2001 is $832.6 million plus a request for another $156 million for the 2009 fiscal year. It’s still a fraction of the multi-billions going to clean coal.

Still, some solar investment is better than none at all. Of the potential $24 million for solar, $2.9 million has been approved for the 2008 fiscal year and will be divvied up among a dozen projects with industry partners, including startups Enphase Energy, developer of web-based solar analytics and inverter management networks, and SmartSpark, a solar inverter maker. The remaining funds are subject to Congressional approval but the DOE says the total federal funds could leverage $16 million in additional private investment.

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  1. The FutureGen Project is not scuttled. It’s changed from one giant mega IGCC plant to a bunch of smaller IGCC plants with carbon capture deomstrations. It’s budgeted to cost the government as much as it was going to end up putting into the one big FutureGen plant ($1.8 billion if memory serves). So FutureGen is still on.

    Considering the chances of carbon sequestration actually working, I think this is worse news, personally.

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