Bill Gates says U.S. clean energy spending should equal defense outlay

Source: Lauren Morello, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 21, 2011

The United States should spend as much on clean energy research as it does on health and defense research, Microsoft founder Bill Gates says.

“There really is no other choice,” Gates wrote in an editorial published yesterday in the journalScience. “Carbon-based fuels are prone to wild price gyrations and are causing the planet to overheat.”Moreover, countries like China, Germany, Japan and Korea are investing heavily in clean energy technology, the Microsoft founder said, and the United States is not. Federal spending on energy research and development has dropped by more than 75 percent over the past 30 years.”It would be a serious miscalculation if America missed out on this singular opportunity,” said Gates.

He praised the country’s universities, national laboratories and “entrepreneurial talent,” but said the government must fund its own clean energy research to jump-start the sector, not simply offer market incentives.

It’s a message Gates has been pushing on Capitol Hill recently as part of a group of high-profile business executives called the American Energy Innovation Council, whose members include the leaders of Lockheed Martin Corp., Xerox Corp., Bank of America Corp. and General Electric Co. (ClimateWire, Sept. 14).

The group issued a report in September calling for a $16 billion annual public-sector investment in clean energy development, compared to the current $5 billion.

To cover the costs of that increase, the group recommended reducing or eliminating existing subsidies to “well-established” energy industries, using some of the royalties from domestic energy production, imposing a small fee on electricity sales, or putting a price on carbon emissions.

The CEOs also pushed a number of other suggested reforms, including a new “quadrennial energy review” modeled on the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review — an idea also supported by several members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who have introduced bills that would direct the Energy Department to conduct a regular energy review.

“Energy transformations take generations,” Gates said in his Science piece. “But if the United States begins in earnest today, the nation’s energy challenges can be solved in ways that truly set America on a path of energy independence and that provide affordable energy for everyone, especially the poor. The return on this kind of investment could change — perhaps even save — the world and provide generations to come with a brighter future.”