April 17, 2015 Capitol Update

In this issue:



House Hearing on Defense S&T Programs and Funding

The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee recently reviewed defense science and technology programs.  The hearing resulted in surprising agreement on several issues.

Members and witnesses agreed on the importance of a vigorous defense S&T program to national security.  There was universal recognition that the backbone of this program is a strong STEM workforce.  Members also agreed about the importance of level funding for the Department of Defense’s programs in basic research, applied research, and applied technology development.

“Technological superiority depends upon a steady stream of investments in research and development. In constant Fiscal Year 2015 dollars, the Research and Development accounts have declined from $88 billion in Fiscal Year 2009 to $64 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. This level of decline, during a period where the United States is still at war, impacts the delivery of new capabilities most severely,” stated Alan Shaffer, Principal Deputy, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Defense Research and Engineering.  Shaffer was joined at the witness table by senior officials of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. 

“We are all aware of the intense downward pressure the Department is under these days and the ever growing universe of threats that we are forced to deal with” said Subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson (R-SC) as he opened the hearing.  Wilson lauded the defense S&T programs as a counter to these threats and spoke of protecting the funding for these programs.  While acknowledging requested increases for the two of the three programs in FY 2016, Wilson, as have other subcommittee and committee chairmen, noted that the Administration’s overall request is well above the caps in the Budget Control Act and would trigger sequestration.  

Chairman Wilson asked each witness for an example of what impact sequestration would have on their programs.  Witnesses all described a hard-to-replace loss of defense scientists and engineers and the effect of some employees reconsidering their careers. Said Shaffer, “Over the past decade, the budget has declined precipitously. Coupled with the rise in capabilities developed by others, the nation is at increased national security risk.”

The full hearing and witness testimonies may be viewed at: http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/hearings-display?ContentRecord_id=1B815A56-A4A4-4602-B5E3-E9DE8AEF193F&ContentType_id=14F995B9-DFA5-407A-9D35-56CC7152A7ED&Group_id=64562e79-731a-4ac6-aab0-7bd8d1b7e890




Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) led a bipartisan congressional visit to the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. This exploratory trip continued the committee’s years-long oversight of the administration’s effective termination of the project and will help inform Congress’ efforts to establish a workable, long-term nuclear waste solution.

Chairman Shimkus also led a congressional trip to the site four years ago. Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Bob Latta (R-OH), Cresent Hardy (R-NV), Mark Amodei (R-NV), and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) joined Shimkus on this year’s tour.

Congress originally selected Yucca Mountain as the site for the nation's nuclear waste repository in the 1980s. The Yucca project was nearing the finish line with DOE's submission of a construction license application, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission docketed for review in September 2008 and was scheduled to decide within four years.

In 2010, despite Congressional action to continue to fund work related to examining the Yucca Mountain project, the administration chose withdraw DOE’s license application from the NRC’s review. In August 2013, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the NRC must resume its review of DOE’s license application. One of the first steps in restarting the licensing was for NRC to release Volume III of the Safety Evaluation Report. The report, released in October 2014, concluded that the Department of Energy’s license application meets the long-term nuclear waste repository regulatory and safety requirements, including that Yucca Mountain would remain safe for at least a million years. To learn more about the history of Yucca Mountain and the committee’s oversight of the issue, visit: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/ and look under Issue Reports.

In a related development, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) wrote to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz regarding the president’s recent determination that a separate repository is required for the disposal of high-level defense waste. The committee leaders wrote, “This latest determination is a significant change from the bipartisan, 30 year nuclear waste management policy in which both defense waste and commercial spent nuclear fuel are jointly disposed in a permanent repository located at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.”

The leaders posed a series of questions to DOE to help provide a greater understating of the determination to split defense and commercial waste disposal, and are seeking answers by April 28, 2015.

To read the full letter to DOE, go to: http://energycommerce.house.gov/sites/republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/files/114/Letters/20150414DOE.pdf



Earlier this month, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) released The Economics of Load Defection, a new report that analyzes how grid-connected solar-plus-battery systems could become cost competitive with traditional retail electric service; why it matters to financiers, regulators, utilities, and other electricity system stakeholders; and possible paths forward for the evolution of the electricity grid.

One of the key questions the report addresses is how system configurations and economics would evolve over time when grid-connected customers have the option to source their entire load either from a) the grid, b) a solar-plus-battery system, or c) some combination of the grid, solar PV, and batteries. The report evaluates the economics through 2050 for a median commercial and residential customer in five representative U.S. locations and finds that:

  • Solar-plus-battery systems rapidly become cost effective;
  • Solar PV supplants the grid, supplying the majority of customers’ electricity;
  • Potentially large kWh defection could undermine revenue for grid investment under current rate structure and business models;
  • Eliminating net metering only delays kWh loss; fixed charges don’t ‘fix’ the problem; and,
  • Investing in their lowest-cost option for electric service through grid-connected solar and solar- plus-battery systems can effectively cap customers’ electricity costs.

Detailed information is available at http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/ under Issue Reports.



This should prove to be a watershed year for the “de-carbonization” of the US power sector, with record volumes of coal-fired capacity to be shuttered, renewables capacity to be built, and natural gas to be consumed. The result, according to research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF): CO2 emissions from the power sector should drop to their lowest level since 1994.

Three factors will combine to make 2015 one for the record books according to new BNEF research and forecasts:

  • This year, the US will install more renewables than ever before, with 18 new gigawatts (GW) coming online. BNEF forecasts new solar installations to reach an all-time annual high of 9.1GW in 2015 – with half of that built in California. Wind build should total 8.9GW (third-most all-time) with a third of that coming in Texas.
  • This is expected to be a record year for coal retirements in the US with 23GW forecast to come offline. That represents no less than 7 percent of all current US coal capacity. A confluence of factors is driving the change, including lower priced natural gas, new standards on mercury emissions, and the old age of many coal-fired units.
  • The power sector will burn more natural gas in 2015 than ever before – more even than in 2012, “the year of no winter”, when prices fell consistently below $3/MMBtu. Gas burn will rise to back-fill lost generation from retiring coal; but also, remarkably low gas prices have boosted burn totals by allowing efficient gas turbines to undercut the cost of coal-fired electricity.

The result of this churn is that CO2 emissions from the power sector should fall to their lowest levels since 1994, BNEF has found. This would put power sector emissions 15.4 percent below 2005 levels. Overall, the US has pledged to cut all CO2 emissions (inclusive of the power, transport, agricultural, industrial, and residential sectors) by 28 percent by 2025 from a baseline of 2005.

Stark regional differences frame the national trends. Southern California’s solar build boom is backed by progressive climate policies; meanwhile Texas wind installations owe thanks to new transmission lines that have recently unlocked strong resources in the Panhandle. Coal retirements are concentrated in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic; and much of the incremental gas burn comes from the Appalachian Basin, where overwhelming production from the Utica and Marcellus Shales has sent gas prices spiraling downward, to the lowest levels in the country.

The white paper is available for download at http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/ under Issue Reports.



The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) now treats expenditures in research and development (R&D) as investment when estimating U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and other national income and product account statistics.

BEA and the National Science Foundation's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) collaborated in developing methodology to use NCSES R&D expenditure statistics for the purpose of estimating U.S. GDP. Changes in GDP methodology, including but not limited to the treatment of R&D, increased historical GDP levels. In turn, U.S. R&D-to-GDP ratios produced by NCSES are now slightly lower, as discussed in a new report from NCSES.

R&D is now capitalized (treated as investment) by BEA in the U.S. GDP and related statistics for all sectors of the economy and included in a new asset category called "intellectual property products." Private sector R&D expenses, for example, were treated previously as an intermediate production cost.

BEA's changes in methodology highlight the importance of R&D. GDP is the widest measure of goods and services across economies. Including R&D as an investment in GDP estimates recognizes the long-term benefits and value of new knowledge. A nation's R&D-to-GDP ratio is often reported as a measure of the intensiveness of its overall research and development efforts and is widely used internationally to compare countries' overall R&D systems.

The report is available at http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/research-and-development/ under Issue Reports.



Research-performing colleges and universities increased their science and engineering research space 4.7 percent between Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 and FY 2013, according to a new report from the NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

The report details that total research space increased 9.6 million net assignable square feet over this period, from 202.2 million to 211.8 million. The biological and biomedical sciences, along with agricultural and natural resources science, accounted for two-thirds of that total growth. Biological and biomedical sciences constituted the largest share of research space in fiscal 2013, at 27 percent--just slightly more than they held in 2011.

Net gains in research space for individual fields included the following:

  • Engineering, 5.7 percent;
  • Physical sciences, 3.7 percent;
  • Health and clinical sciences, 3.5 percent; and,
  • Mathematics and statistics, 13.3 percent

Net research space in the computer and information sciences fields declined by 14 percent over the two-year period.

Public doctorate-granting institutions accounted for 70.9 percent of science and engineering research space in fiscal 2013, with their private counterparts accounting for 24.4 percent.

To review this report, Research Space at Academic Institutions Increased by 4.7 percent between FY 2011 and FY 2013, please visit http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/research-and-development/ under Issue Reports.


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