On Friday, the House of Representatives voted on its final version of the 2012 Energy & Water Development Appropriations Bill. In terms of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) — the Department of Energy’s flagship energy innovation program — the good news is that advocates were able to boost the budget from $100 to $180 million with a last-minute amendment, which passed by just one vote.

Americans for Energy Leadership was proud to support this effort, joining dozens of universities and high-tech companies in signing a letter supporting ARPA-E. Now we move on to the Senate appropriations bill, where we expect to achieve a larger budget and eventually come out somewhere inbetween the House and Senate version at conference.

Yet even while we “celebrate” salvaging a $180 million budget for ARPA-E in the House, we recognize this amount falls fall short of what ARPA-E needs to achieve its potential. Indeed, ARPA-E merits a much larger budget for its investments, which can spur the development of entirely new industries and technological breakthroughs, create high-skilled jobs, support small businesses, improve U.S. energy security, and enhance our competitiveness in the advanced energy industry. As the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation recently concluded in a report, “A Model for Innovation: ARPA-E Merits Full Funding“:


“In many ways, [ARPA-E] represents public-private innovation at its finest, both for what it does and how it does it: this is not your grandfather’s politicized bureaucracy. It’s a fresh and nimble organization that operates at the intersection of fundamental and applied research, bringing science research and technology development together under one roof. And we’re already beginning to see early returns: ARPA-E projects, worth approximately $360 million in public funding, have to date obtained $285 million in follow-on private investment and led to 17 patent filings, and the program is still very young. But ARPA-E has only just started to spur successful innovation—and we have yet to see what this innovation engine can really do.”

Yet the $180 million House budget appropriation falls far short of the $1.5 billion recommendation from the American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution, and Breakthrough Institute; the $1 billion National Academies recommendation; the administration’s $550 million budget request; and the $300 million Congressional authorization for FY2011. It is even less than the Heritage Foundation’s recent $300 million recommendation, in a report which essentially called for dismantling the Department of Energy (which we critiqued in two counterpoint memos with ITIF and Breakthrough Institute: “Counterpoint: Heritage Foundation Backgrounder” and “The Misconceptions of Heritage’s Energy Proposal“). The Heritage Foundation proposal noted:

“Although the mission of ARPA-E may be a laudable one, the $650 million budget request for FY 2012 should be cut to $300 million (the amount the President requested for FY 2011), especially since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes $400 million for ARPA-E. This cut would save $350 million.”

Even while we continue fighting for ARPA-E today, this should serve as yet one more sign that the energy innovation community needs to get much better organized over the long term, especially as we look for opportunities in the post-2012 landscape. Americans for Energy Leadership looks forward to continue working on that effort in the months and years ahead.