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Appropriations Update: Energy Science & Technology Boosted in House

ARPA-E was saved from elimination (again), and appropriators favored renewables R&D, efficiency, grid modernization and security, and basic research.

In yet another rebuke of the White House’s tough research budgets, House appropriators this week granted assorted funding boosts to basic and applied research programs in the Energy & Water bill, adding $4.7 billion back for nondefense R&D programs into a Department of Energy budget that was again slated for steep cuts. The bill was adopted on a 31-21 vote.

As seen in the tables below, House appropriators favored energy efficiency and renewable energy; R&D programs for energy grid modernization, security, and restoration; and basic science funded by the Office of Science. In report language accompanying the bill, appropriators rejected the White House approach of focusing only on early-stage R&D (though basic science would also have been cut dramatically in the most recent Trump Administration budget, of course), and instead provided funding for full-spectrum innovation including research, development, demonstration, and deployment.

Notes for specific programs follow below. See also the AAAS appropriations dashboard for more details, and the committee report for much more detail. The bill’s next stop is the House floor, though perhaps not until June.

Office of Science

Committee-approved funding for research and construction activities by program are shown below. In addition to the program-specific line items below, the bill includes $185.7 million for general-purpose infrastructure construction and modernization at the national labs, a $32.5 million or 21.2 percent increase above the FY 2019 allocation and $67. 3 million more than the request.

Table showing funding increases for the Office of Science in FY 2020 House Appropriations.


Advanced Scientific Computing Research. In addition to a robust increase for research activities, the bill provides a 7.1 percent increase above FY 2019 each for ESNet and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, and a 13.1 percent increase for the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility.

Basic Energy Sciences. The moderate rise in research funding includes $120 million for the Energy Frontier Research Centers program in FY 2020: a $10 million increase from FY 2019, but $10 million less than requested. The bill provides much more than requested for multiple construction projects including the Linac Coherent Light Source-II High Energy upgrade at SLAC; the Advanced Light Source upgrade at Berkeley Lab; and the Spallation Neutron Source upgrade at Oak Ridge. The bill also provides three percent increases for DOE’s light sources and Nanoscale Science Centers, and continues innovation hub funding.

Biological and Environmental Research. In a departure from past years in which environmental research and modeling activities were targeted, the bill provides roughly even relative increases for both the program’s biological and environmental research divisions. The bill includes $10 million for development and operation of a national microbiome database, which received a similar appropriation in FY 2019.

On-site instrumentation for ARM's Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) field campaign.
Instrumentation for recently-ended CACTI field campaign. Courtesy of DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility.


Fusion Energy Sciences. Perhaps the most notable aspect is the big jump in appropriations for the international ITER project, as seen above. The bill also includes $20 million for upgrade of SLAC’s Matter in Extreme Conditions instrument (versus $1 million requested), $21 million for the Materials Plasma Exposure eXperiment (MPEX; versus $12 million requested); and $4 million for a public-private partnership on U.S. fusion capabilities.

High Energy Physics. Appropriators would provide construction funding increases of at least $40 million each for the Proton Improvement Plan II project at Fermilab and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, in both cases far more than requested. Funding would also increase to $50 million for the science underlying particle accelerator technology, $9.1 million more than requested and a 3.2 percent increase above FY 2019.

Nuclear Physics. The bill provides $11 million total for a new U.S.-based electron ion collider, which was initiated in this year’s budget request at $1.5 million. Appropriators also granted $10.2 million to the GRETA project at Berkeley Lab, a $3.6 million above FY 2019 appropriations and $7.7 million above the White House request; $9.5 million for the sPHENIX project at Brookhaven, a $4.2 million increase above FY 2019 appropriations and $6.5 million above the request; and $2.5 million to initiate the Measurement of a Lepton-Lepton Electroweak Reaction or MOLLER experiment at Jefferson Lab, versus a request of $300,000.

In FY 2020, the Office of Science would see an all-time high in inflation-adjusted dollars (see below for budgets since FY 2000).

Graph showing growing funding for the Office of Science since FY 2000.


Energy Technology Programs

Program spending can be seen below. Additional details are available in the committee report and will be added to the appropriations dashboard, but some brief notes are below.

Table showing funding increases for DOE technology programs in FY 2020 House Appropriations.


Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and ARPA-E. Not much to say here for now except: Democrats and the White House obviously feel very differently about these programs.

Office of Electricity. The increases seen in the table above cover programs to improve transmission reliability and distribution resilience, and appropriators also direct the program to establish “a crosscutting program to lower the cost of long duration grid-scale energy storage” and “a grid storage launch pad aimed at accelerating materials development, testing, and independent evaluation of battery materials and battery systems for grid applications.”

Nuclear Energy and Fossil Energy offices. Neither office would see much overall funding change from FY 2019, but would also avoid White House-recommended cuts, amid some funding change. For nuclear, appropriators would grant a $9 million or 29 percent year-over-year increase for modeling and simulation activities (while funding for the related innovation hub would cease in FY 2020), and an $8 million or 17 percent increase for light water reactor sustainability R&D. The bill provides $100 million for advanced small modular reactor technical and regulatory support, the same as FY 2019, and $20 million for “a new solicitation for at least two new public-private partnerships focused on advancing non-light water reactor designs towards demonstration phase.” The bill also provides $40 million as requested for a demonstration project for production of high-assay low enriched uranium. Appropriators also restored funding of $5 million each for the Integrated University Program and the STEP R&D program, and kept versatile fast test reactor funding flat at $65 million.

For the Fossil Energy R&D program, appropriators rejected big cuts to carbon capture, utilization, and storage R&D programs, and also maintained solid oxide fuel cell R&D at $30 million. Advanced coal turbine R&D also would reach $30 million, a $10 million increase above FY 2019 and $13 million more than requested. Materials research would rise to $40 million. The committee would provide $20 million for transformational coal pilot projects, continuing line item funding from prior years, though the Administration had sought a larger increase for next-generation coal power R&D.


Cover image credit: Department of Energy