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Published on May 2nd, 2016 | by Tina Casey


Hillary Clinton Could Adopt A 7-Year-Old Prodigy (#thanksobama)

May 2nd, 2016 by  

Both Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning on a healthy slate of clean power programs, and now that primary season is winding down, it’s time to focus on the front-runner. That would be Hillary Clinton, based on her practically insurmountable lead in the number of votes cast and the number of pledged delegates. Coincidentally, the Energy Department’s cutting edge ARPA-E division just celebrated its seven-year anniversary last week, so that’s a good jumping-off point for taking a closer look at Clinton’s energy platform.

Hillary Clinton for ARPA-E

ARPA-E #thanksbush a little, #thanksobama a lot

Last week’s ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) birthday celebration brings back some old memories for CleanTechnica. Modeled on the Defense Department’s DARPA high tech funding arm, ARPA-E was created under the Bush Administration by Act of Congress back in 2007.

So, why is ARPA-E only celebrating its seventh birthday, and not its ninth?

Therein lies a tale. The genesis of ARPA-E was a 2005 report from the National Academies in response to a bipartisan directive from Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress. The aim was to identify areas of science and technology where the US needed to lay in some elbow grease to “compete, prosper, and stay secure in the 21st Century.”

In the same spirit of bipartisanship, in August 2007, Congress authorized the creation of ARPA-E as part of the America COMPETES Act, aka the “America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act.”

When we say bipartisanship, we mean bipartisanship. Driving the bill for the Republicans was Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who proudly listed America COMPETES as his “top legislative accomplishment” in 2007:

Alexander led Republican efforts on the bill for over two years prior to its final passage this August. In a show of bipartisan support for Alexander’s legislation, the America COMPETES Act – which went through multiple versions in the previous Congress – was jointly introduced by Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and garnered 70 cosponsors from both parties…

President Bush signed the $34 billion bill into law in August 2007, but ARPA-E got the short end of the stick. Like, way short. A 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service notes that Bush had his fingers crossed behind his back when he signed America COMPETES:

Although President Bush signed the America COMPETES Act into law because it shares the goals of the ACI, he did not support ARPA-E. A White House fact sheet stated that “The bill creates over 30 new programs that are mostly duplicative or counterproductive…


…Dr. John H. Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, testified that the FY2009 budget does not request funding for ARPA-E because “the Administration believes very strongly that the basic research programs at the DOE Office of Science are a higher leverage investment and in greater need of funding than new DOE program…


So, ARPA-E languished in bureaucratic limbo until President Barack Obama took the helm. One of his first acts as President was to put some muscle into ARPA-E funding, and the rest is history.

As capably summarized in the above infographic, the ARPA-E portfolio has gone from zero to 475 projects in seven years. Along with energy-focused programs that include 3-D printing and other related technology, the program includes new business models for pushing clean tech into the marketplace.

Hillary Clinton Builds On Eight Years Of Progress

Whether they talk about a revolution or not, both Democratic primary candidates have adopted energy platforms that do not involve tearing things down. They both build on ARPA-E and other programs that either launched or gained steam under the Obama Administration.

Both candidates are also building on their track records in clean power and climate progress. One of Clinton’s first tasks as Secretary of State was the 2009 Copenhagen Accord on climate change. Work on the talks was well under way by the time she was appointed to her post and the agreement was met with mixed reviews. However, according to a rundown by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions Clinton did make an important point that influenced the direction of historic COP 2015 Paris talks:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived ahead of President Obama, upped the pressure by declaring U.S. support for the goal of $100 billion a year for developing countries, an offer that many African and small-island countries did not want to let slip by.  It was only then that Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei appeared to concede on U.S. demands that its actions be open to some form of international scrutiny.

As a Senator representing New York State during the Bush Administration, Clinton also established her clean energy cred in a number of different areas including support for wind, solar, and biofuel.

Presidential candidate Clinton lays out a number of concrete, specific goals in her “Vision for Renewable Power,” starting with the installation of half a billion solar panels in four years and the generation of enough renewable energy to power every US home within ten years.

While those are big numbers, both are highly realistic. Under the Obama Administration, the US solar and onshore wind industries have accelerated from practically nothing into full fledged economic engines, and the US is on the cusp of tapping its rich store of offshore wind.

Another dose of reality is the specific reference to powering homes. That particular goal does not include the additional power consumed by commercial buildings, industrial facilities, academic institutions, agriculture, and other stationary users as well as the considerable amount of power that will be needed by the nation’s growing fleet of mobile energy storage devices, aka electric vehicles. In other words, the stated goal is realistically — and most likely, easily — attainable

Speaking of reality, one thing you won’t find in the Clinton plan is the word “ban.” Her renewable energy platform accounts for the likelihood that Republicans in Congress will continue to obstruct clean power, even in if Democrats win a majority of seats.

Rather than depending on extreme legislative action, Clinton’s plan leverages the Obama Administration’s success in combining administrative actions with public-private partnerships, and motivating the private sector with challenge-based programs that reward participating companies with free publicity.

The challenge structure also enables participating state and local governments to attract business by building their green cred, and to compete for federal grants.

What About Those “Other” Fuels?

Also in the interests of not ignoring reality, the Clinton plan acknowledges the global growth of nuclear energy. The US still has a role to play in that field, at least on the R&D side.

Under the Obama Administration, ARPA-E has been pushing forward with nuclear energy R&D under a program called “Safe and Secure Megawatt-Size Nuclear Power.”

The basic idea is to nudge the marketplace in the direction of small scale, modular facilities that reduce the risk of a Fukushima-style disaster. That approach is echoed in the Clinton plan under the “Innovation” heading:

Increase public investment in clean energy R&D, including in storage technology, designed materials, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration. Expand successful innovation initiatives, like ARPA-e, and cut those that fail to deliver results.

In contrast to the specific targets for renewable energy, the Clinton plan does not establish specific goals for adding to the nation’s nuclear stockpile. While that may disappoint nuclear advocates, it’s another dose of reality.

Although R&D may continue apace, for the foreseeable future it’s more likely that nuclear energy will not be able to compete on cost with the one-two punch of energy storage and renewable energy, where costs are dropping precipitously.

As for fossil fuels, the Clinton plan does not promise the moon, but it does set a course for the US economy to achieve “deep decarbonization” by 2050.

Deep decarbonization refers to a global plan to decrease net carbon emissions to zero by the second half of the 21st century.

That will not mean the absolute end of coal, oil, and natural gas, but they will necessarily be squeezed out of the mainstream energy market, where they will be relegated to a marginal role that does not involve destroying life as we know it.

The Clinton plan also proposes a “safe and responsible” standard for fossil fuel production. That could go pretty far with a willing Congress in terms of restricting production. Even without cooperation from Congress, the Clinton plan foresees tightening up regulations for fossil fuel production and removing it altogether from additional federal lands.

Connecting the Dots

One particularly interesting element of the Clinton plan is that it draws a connection between the shrinkage of the fossil fuel economy and the growth of the recreation economy. It comes right after a section on economic security for coal-dependent communities:

Collaborative Stewardship: Renew our shared commitment to the conservation of our disappearing lands, waters, and wildlife, to the preservation of our history and culture, and to expanding access to the outdoors for all Americans.

In case there’s any doubt about the obvious misdirection involved in the supposed Koch endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the stewardship position should clear things up. By including land conservation in her energy platform, Clinton deliberately underscores the Obama Administration’s newly invigorated pushback against the Koch-funded land grab.

Changing What’s Possible

Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, the official ARPA-E slogan is a fitting description for both campaigns: Changing What’s Possible.

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Image: via ARPA-E/energy.gov. 

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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