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President's Remarks at National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The following is a transcript of remarks by the President at a panel on energy conservation and efficiency at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado:

Published: 22-Feb-2006

THE PRESIDENT: Please be seated. Thank you. Thank you all. Thanks for having me. I'm honored to be at the National Renewable Energy Lab -- which will be henceforth called NREL. (Laughter.) We -- I have come today to discuss unbelievable opportunities for our country to achieve a great national goal, and that is to end our addiction on oil.

I know it sounds odd for a Texan to say that. (Laughter.) But I have spent a lot of time worrying about the national security implications of being addicted to oil, particularly from parts of the world where people may not agree with our policy or our way of life, and the economic security implications of being hooked on oil, particularly since the demand for oil is rising faster than the supply of oil. And any time that happens it creates the conditions for what could be price disruption and price spikes at home are like hidden taxes on the working people of our country.

And so we're here to discuss ways to achieve this really important national goal. And there's no better place to come than NREL, and I want to thank you all for hosting me. I appreciate -- (applause.) I really appreciate the scientists and dreamers and, more importantly, doers who work here to help achieve this important goal.

I recognize that there has been some interesting -- let me say -- mixed signals when it comes to funding. The issue, of course, is whether or not good intentions are met with actual dollars spent. Part of the issue we face, unfortunately, is that there are sometimes decisions made, but as a result of the appropriations process, the money may not end up where it was supposed to have gone. I was talking to Dan about our mutual desire to clear up any discrepancies in funding, and I think we've cleaned up those discrepancies. My message to those who work here is we want you to know how important your work is; we appreciate what you're doing; and we expect you to keep going it and we want to help you keep doing it. (Applause.)

[Customary acknowledgements edited]

So the challenge is what do we do to achieve objectives. In other words, we set goals -- so what do we need to do? What do we need to do as a nation to meet the goal? How can we fulfill our responsibilities that really say we understand the problems we face? So here's what we need to do.

First, we need to make sure we're the leader of technology in the world. I don't mean just relative to previous times in American history. I think this country needs to lead the world and continue to lead the world. And so how do you do that? One, first, there's a federal commitment to spending research dollars. In my State of the Union, I called on Congress to double the research in basic sciences at the federal level. This will help places like NREL. It will continue this grand tradition of the federal government working with the private sector to spend valuable research money in order to make sure we develop technologies that keep us as a leader.

In order for us to achieve this national goal of becoming less dependent on foreign sources of oil, we've got to spend money, and the best place to do that is through research labs such as NREL. Now, we also got to recognize that two-thirds of the money spent on research in the United States comes from the private sector. So it's one thing for the federal government to make a commitment of doubling the funding over a 10-year period, but we've got to recognize that most of the money is done through corporate America, through the private sector.

And one thing that seems like a smart thing to do for me is to make the tax rules clear. The research and development tax credit expires on an annual basis. It doesn't make any sense to say to corporate America or the private sector, plan for the long run, but we're not going to tell you whether or not the tax code is going to be the same from year to year. And so, in order to encourage that two-thirds of the investment in the private sector -- necessary to help us achieve national goals and objectives, one of which is to stay on the leading edge of innovation -- is to have the research and development tax credit a permanent part of our tax code.

Now, in order to get us less addicted to oil, we got to figure out where we use oil, and that's pretty easy when you think about it. We use a lot of oil for our transportation needs. And so if we can change the way we drive our cars and our trucks, we can change our addition to oil. And laboratories such as this are doing unbelievably interesting work on helping us change the way we drive our automobiles. And you're going to hear some interesting discussion with people on the front lines of these technological changes.

I just want to tell the American people three ways that we can change the way we drive our automobiles. One is through the use of hybrid vehicles. And Congress wisely increased the tax credit available to those who purchase hybrid vehicles. In other words, we're trying to increase demand for hybrid vehicles. You can get up to a $3,400 tax credit now if you buy a hybrid vehicle. Hybrid vehicles are vehicles that use a gasoline engine to help charge a battery, and when the battery is charged, the battery kicks in, and if the battery gets low, the gasoline engine kicks back in to charge the battery. It's a hybrid -- in other words, two sources of power for the engine.

The new technological breakthrough, however, is going to be when we develop batteries that are able to enable an automobile to drive, say, the first 40 miles on electricity alone. Those are what we call plug-in hybrid vehicles. And yesterday I was at Johnson Controls, which is one of the private sector companies that are developing the new technologies to enable cars to be able to not need the gasoline engine to charge the battery. Now, that saves a lot of -- you can begin to think about how this technology is going to enable us to save on gasoline use, which makes us less dependent on crude oil, since crude oil is the feed stock for gasoline.

The ideas is to have an automobile, say, that can drive 40 miles on the battery, as I mentioned. But if you're living in a big city, that's probably all you're going to need for that day's driving. And then you can get home and plug your car right into the outlet in your house. This is coming. I mean, we're close to this. It's going to require more research dollars. The budget I submitted to the Congress does have money in it for this type of research for new types of batteries. But I want the people to know we're close. The hybrid vehicles you're buying today are an important part of making sure you save money when it comes to driving. But they're going to change with the right research and development. Technology will make it so that the hybrid vehicles are even better in getting us less addicted on oil, and making it good for the consumer's pocketbook.

Secondly, there is a fantastic technology brewing -- I say brewing, it's kind of a catch on words here -- (laughter) -- called ethanol. I mean, it's - - there's a lot of folks in the Midwest driving -- using what's called E85 gasoline. It means 85 percent of the fuel they're putting in their car is derived from corn. This is exciting news for those of us worried about addiction to oil. You grow a lot of corn, you're less dependent on foreign sources of energy. Using corn for fuel helps our farmers and helps our foreign policy at the same time. It's a good deal.

The problem is we need more sources of ethanol. We need more -- to use different products than just corn. Got to save some corn to eat, of course. (Laughter.) Corn flakes without corn is kind of -- (laughter.) And so one of the interesting things happening in this laboratory and around the country is what's called the development of cellulostic ethanol. That's a fancy word for using switch grass, corn -- wood products, stuff that you generally allow to decompose, to become a source of energy.

And as our fellow citizens begin to think to whether or not it makes sense to spend research, imagine -- dollars on this technology, imagine people in the desert being able to grow switch grasses that they can then convert into energy for ethanol for the cars that they're driving there in Arizona. All of a sudden the whole equation about energy production begins to shift dramatically. And we're going to hear a lot about cellulostic ethanol.

Finally, hydrogen fuel cells. It's not a short-term solution, or an intermediate-term solution, but it's definitely a long-term solution. It will help us achieve grand objectives, less dependence on oil, and the production of automobiles that have zero emissions that could harm our air. And we'll talk a lot about hydrogen fuel cells.

Finally, I do want to talk about technologies that will enable us to change the way we power our homes and businesses, which is the second part of the strategy, the Advanced Energy Initiative strategy.

First of all, there's huge pressure on natural gas -- people in Colorado know what I'm talking about. We've been using a lot of natural gas for the generation of electricity. And we got to change that. Natural gas is important for manufacturing, it's important for fertilizers. But to use it for electricity is causing enormous pressure, because we're not getting enough natural gas produced.

One way to alleve [sic] the pressure on price is to expand the use of liquified natural gas through new terminals. And I want to thank the Congress for passing new siting rights in the energy bill that will enable us to have more terminals for us to be able to receive liquified natural gas from parts of the world that can produce it cheaply -- liquified, and then ship it to the United States.

But the other way to take the price off of gas is to better use coal, nuclear power, solar and wind energy. Now, when you hear people say coal, it causes people to shudder, because coal -- it's hard to burn it. But we have got -- we're spending about $2 billion over a 10-year period to develop clean coal technologies. If technology can help the way we live, technology can certainly help change the way we utilize coal. And it's important that we spend money on new technologies so we can burn coal cleanly, because we got 250 years worth of coal reserves.

One way to take the pressure off natural gas is to use coal more efficiently. We believe, by 2015 we'll have developed the first zero emission coal-fire electricity plant. We're making progress. We're spending money, research is good. The American taxpayers have got to know that by spending money on this vital research, that we're going to be able to use our abundant sources of coal in an environmentally friendly way, and help with your electricity bills.

Secondly, we've got to use nuclear power more effectively and more efficiently. We haven't built a plant since the 1970s. You're seeing now, France has built a lot of plants since the 1970s. They get about 85 percent of their electricity from nuclear power. And technology has changed dramatically, and I believe we can build plants in a safe way and, at the same time, generate cost-effective electricity that does not -- that the process of which won't pollute.

And so we've begun to, in the energy bill, begun to provide incentives for the nuclear power industry to start siting plants. It just doesn't make any sense to me that we don't use this technology if we're interested in becoming less dependent on foreign sources of energy and we want to protect our environment.

And finally, solar and wind technologies. We are -- we're also going to talk about that. NREL is doing a lot of important work on solar and wind technology. The vision for solar is one day each home becomes a little power unit unto itself, that photovoltaic processes will enable you to become a little power generator, and that if you generate more power than you use, you can feed it back into the grid.

I was, yesterday, in Michigan, and went to United Solar. And they've got some fantastic technologies. Dan was quick to remind me, others have fantastic technologies, as well. (Laughter.) I just hadn't seen them firsthand. But the American people need to know, with additional research dollars, which we're proposing to Congress, we're close to some important breakthroughs -- to be able to use this technology to help folks -- to help folks power their homes by the sun.

And finally, wind. We don't have a lot of turbines in Washington, but there's a lot of wind there, I can assure you of that. (Laughter.) But there are parts of the country where there are turbines. They say to me that there's about six percent of the country that's perfectly suited for wind energy, and that if the technology is developed further, that it's possible we could generate up to 20 percent of our electricity needs through wind and turbine.

What I'm talking about is a comprehensive strategy. In other words, we're not relying upon one aspect of renewable energy to help this country become less dependent. We're talking about a variety of fronts. And we're willing to work with both the public sector and private sector to make sure that we achieve breakthroughs. And I'm fired up about it and so should the American people be. I mean, we're close to changing the way we live in an incredibly positive way. And, therefore, I want to thank the folks at NREL for being a part of this exciting movement. It's got to be pretty interesting to be one of these guys working on how to make switch grass go to fuel. I mean, it's got to make you feel good about your work, because you're doing the country a great service.

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