Like many of the programs in the sights of the administration, killing it outright may be easier proposed than accomplished. ARPA-E has its proponents, and they’re not just among those tinkering in Northern California garages or marching against oil pipelines.
Among its supporters on Capitol Hill are Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Lamar Alexander, chairman of the energy panel of the Appropriations Committee. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick to head the Energy department, pledged to be “engaged in” ARPA-E, but indicated it may face some budget cuts. He vowed to work with Congress to ensure “an appropriate funding level.”
“This is not one that I’m terribly worried about,” said Rich Powell, managing director of policy and strategy for ClearPath Action, a group founded to encourage Republicans to support clean energy. Once Trump’s “team engages deeply with these programs they’re going to realize that this is not a place to cut deeply.”
Business heavyweights such as Bill Gates, the Microsoft Corp. founder and Tom Fanning, president of Southern Co., have banded together as part of the American Energy Innovation Council to argue ARPA-E financing should increase to $1 billion a year, about triple its current level. Unlike the Energy department’s loan program, which had the high-profile failure after solar developer Solyndra went bankrupt, ARPA-E provides smaller grants to projects at an earlier stage of development and so the individual risks are lower.
And now proponents have hit on a new way to try and garner support. After eight years of pitching projects on their ability to cut fossil-fuel use and curtail carbon emissions, advocates are making an argument that may resonate with the new administration: It’s all about creating American jobs.
Griffith has moved on from high-flying wind power to a handful of other projects funded by the agency. A more recent endeavor would store natural gas for vehicle use in tubes modeled after the human intestine.
“ARPA-E deserves to be expanded five-fold if we want to make America energy independent and have the jobs of the 21st century,” he said.