S O L A R ENERGY A N D T H E R E A G A N A D M I N I S T R A T I O N
MINI B R I E F N U M B E R M B 8 1 2 6 5
J. Glen M o o r e
Science Policy Research Division
T H E LIBRARY OF C O N G R E S S
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
MAJOR I S S U E S S Y S T E M
D A T E O R I G I N A T E D 12/28/81
D A T E U P D A T E D 07/26/82
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CALL 287-5700
The Reagan Administration is proceeding with its plan to dismantle much of
the Federal solar energy program as it
The objective is to reduce Federal expenditures
bureaucracy and to limit Federal involvement in program
areas where the
private sector can take over.
The Administration contends that the market
will be, and should be, the final arbiter in commercial solar energy
A central issue for solar interests is whether the private
Sector is now able to take over the solar development and commercializaticn
work begun by the Federal Government, with minimal loss of continuity in the
If the pace is too fast, there could be a loss of program
continuity that could cause a delay in the time solar technologies a r e
available for widespread commercial use.
The Reagan Administration is attempting
to introduce a n energy policy,
which places greater reliance on market forces
Under Reagan, the Federal energy effort will focus
commercialization will be the responsibility of the private sector.
Administration reasons that continued Federal
market-ready technologies is unnecessary in light of economic recovery,
regulatory relief, rising energy prices, and economic incentives for energy
It is the Reagan Administration's contention that much of the Federal work
in solar energy supports near-term development and commercialization a n d ,
hence, can be reduced or eliminated.
In its first budget
Congress for the F Y 8 2 budget, the Reagan Administration cut the solar program
eliminated most of the demonstration and near-term
by about 6 0 % , which
Even deeper cuts are proposed for the F Y 8 3 budget a s
the Administration prepares to dismantle the Department of Energy
transfer remaining program authority to other Federal agencies.
74059 for more detailed information on the Federal solar energy program.)
Solar Policy Shift and Congressional Input
As a result of cuts i n the F Y 8 2 DOE solar budget, Government solar program
emphasis i s now on long-range research and development rather than on
near-term development, demonstration and commercialization as it had been
under the Carter Administration.
The cuts were made i n order to bring the
solar program into conformity with the Administation's overall strategy for
In some cases, however, the cuts and resultant policy
shifts appear to be in conflict with the mandates
of present law.
particular, cuts in the wind, photovoltaic and ocean thermal
conversion programs may be inconsistent with
the expressed purposes of
special goal-oriented legislation passed in those program areas by the 95th
and 96th Congresses.
Policy Set forth in earlier generic solar legislation may also be affected
by the Administration's actions.
For example, Sec.
of the Solar
Energy Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1 9 7 4
declares that it is the policy of the Federal Government to "provide for the
development and demonstration of practicable means to employ solar energy on
a commercial Scale."
The end of this policy is a major objective of the
At issue i s whether the Administration's use of the budget process to
implement policy change represents a denial of Congress' legitimate role in
Thus far, the Administration has not asked Congress to amend
or repeal any legislation in the solar area, but then Congress has not taken
the initiative to change existing law either.
Congress has generally
supported the Administration's approach and has accepted a role in the solar
policy shift which is limited to adjustments in the solar budget made a t the
program and subprogram levels.
Impact of the Reagan Program on Future Solar Use
contends that the marketplace can
commercial introduction of solar
effectively than the Government, especially if energy prices are allowed to
reflect their true replacement coat.
During authorization hearings
February 1981, Secretary of Energy Edwards predicted that cuts in the solar
budget would have little effect on solar energy use.
H e further predicted
that solar energy use will continue a healthy rate of increase over time a s
the President's economic recovery program takes effect.
There is some question whether the solar industry is strong enough now to
commercialize market-ready systems without Federal assistance and at the Sametime substantially increase its investments i n R&D to make up for cuts in the
While the Administration contends that i t is, the Solar
Energy Industries Association predicted that the budget proposed for F Y 8 2
would collapse the industry. Denis Hayes
(former director of the Solar
Energy Research Institute a n d . a n outspoken critic of the Administration's
proposed program) reportedly called the cuts "catastrophicw and
Hayes was also reported to have said that solar development
would not be perceptively different in 1985 as a result of the cuts, but the
difference will become very great by 1990 and could be enormous by the turn
of the century.
Energy Tax Credits Under Review for Possible Repeal
The Administration is considering the repeal of the residential and
business tax credits for solar energy and energy conservation
The possibility that the credits might be repealed was first raised by the
24, 1981, when he announced that he would
President on Sept.
reductions in the FY82 Federal budget.
Repeal of these credits
the 4 cents per gallon excise tax exemption for alcohol fuels) would
projected deficits by an estimated $1.3 billion in FY83 and $1.9
FY84, and would be consistent with the Administration's policy of a reduced
Federal role in energy markets.
The solar industry's reaction to the repeal possibility has been one of
alarm and disappointment.
The Renewable Energy Institute (a lobby group for
the solar energy industry) called it the most serious threat yet to renewable
Tax credit supporters labeled the repeal contradictory
and inconsistent since the Administration has repeatedly used the credits a s
an argument to justify deep cuts in the renewable energy and energy
COngreSSiOnal supporters note that the Administration
has repeatedly promised to protect the credits i n return for congressional
support of the budget reductions.
In its FY83 budget request the Administration indicated its intent to ask
Congress to repeal the business energy tax credits but not the residential
However, draft legislation to effect the repeal has not yet been
submitted to Congress. Strong congressional opposition to the repeal of
either the residential or business energy tax credit has apparently caused
the Administration to drop the proposal.
However, the solar industry claims
that the Administration's reported attacks on the credits has damaged
Legislation has been introduced to extend the credits
through 1990 (H.R. 6735).
DOE Solar Program Closeout Budget in FY83
The $72 million budget proposed by the Administration for solar programs,
i n FY83 assumes the dismantlement of DOE and the subsequent transfer of
remaining program authority to an Energy Research and Technology Agency to be
established within the Department of Commerce.
D O E reportedly had asked for
$96 million to close out solar programs in FY83, but OMB cut the request to
D O E could have appealed the cut to the President before a
December 1 0 deadline for filing budgets, but elected not to do so.
in a November 2 4 letter from Energy Secretary Edwards to OMB Director
Stockman, Edwards asked that the renewable energy
reconsidered since they effected a change in the Administration's policies in
He further noted that the cuts imposed by OMB in the renewable
energy area "would limit Federal involvement to only the most basic, generic
kinds of research, which would eliminate environmental work which
essential to achieving feasibility of new technologies, and would discontinue
work necessary to complete proof-of-concept activities which are essential if
activities are to be turned over and accepted by private industry."
A $72 million solar budget would result
in the termination of several
programs in FY83: active and passive systems development; ocean energy
research and development; information activities; and a permanent
for the Solar Energy Research Institute. The remaining programs would be
funded at the minimum level necessary for their orderly transfer to another
photovoltaics, $27.6 million; solar thermal, $15.4 million; biomass,
million; alcohol fuels, $3 million; wind
international activities, $9.5
(primarily for an on-going
project with Saudi Arabia); and program direction, $2.146 million to pay the
salaries of 46 employees.
Congress approved a budget resolution (S.Con.Res. 92) Which would
FY83 energy spending at FY82 levels. This is expected to mean that the DOE
renewable energy and conservation budgets will be a t FY82 levels rather than
a t the sharply reduced level requested by the Administration.
resolution only establishes a budget ceiling; the actual level of
spending will be established through the regular appropriations process.
Possible Effect on Solar Programs
As part of a plan to reduce Federal spending and Federal jobs, the
President on Sept.
24, 1981, announced a proposed
elimination of the
Departments of Energy and Education.
According to Administration
the elimination of DOE would save about $1.5 billion in FY83 and enable the
Federal bureaucracy to be reduced by 4,400 jobs by FY84.
Any termination proposal must be approved by Congress.
approve, program authority remaining after the paring down and elimination o f
a s many programs a s considered sound would be transferred t o other agencies,
or to new agencies.
authority is expected
to go to the
Department of Commerce. DOE submitted a $72 million FY83 closeout budget for
the solar program in anticipation of the agency's termination in late F Y 8 2 o r
However, should Congress disapprove the dismantlement proposal,
solar programs could be adversely affected by the steep budget cuts and staff
reductions intended for the solar program closeout case.
Furthermore, if D O E
i s left in limbo, momentum in the solar program
would almost certainly be
lost due to budgetary uncertainties, reorganization, and personnel losses.
The dismantlement of DOE has support in Congress, but it also has its
The major objection seems to be more to the Administration's
approach to dismantlement than to the act itself.
Some critics are concernedthat
that the Administration is pursuing a de facto dismantlement of DOE
dismantlement may be achieved through budget cuts and personnel reductions
instead of through a congressional response to an official proposal.
Implementation of the Solar Bank Blocked
It i s the Reagan Administration's contention that the Solar Energy and
Energy Conservation Bank duplicates other Federal programs and therefore need
implementation of the Bank in FY81 by rescinding $122 million appropriated
for it by the 96th Congress.
efforts to have the Bank
permanently terminated i n FY82, while not fully successful, resulted i n the
Bank's appropriation being reduced to just $22 million ($825 million had been
authorized i n the Bank's enabling legislation).
The $22 million appropriation was considered a victory by the Bank's
However, even if the Bank is implemented, the amount that would
be available for loans in FY82 is probably too small t o generate interest
among the State and local government organizations and private
institutions which would be responsible for handling loan transactions with
Subsidies from the Bank to these organizations were
expected to reduce their unwillingness to service small loans.
cooperation (which was in question even before the loan pool was so
the future of the Bank would
Furthermore, with the small amount that would be available in FY82 for both
solar and conservation loans, it is doubtful that the Bank could meet its
intended purpose which was to increase the access of a significant number of
low- to moderate-income persons to credit for energy saving investments.
The Administration's FY83 budget request to Congress included a request to
rescind the FY82 Bank appropriation.
This was rejected, and in early May the
Administration began to take steps to implement the Bank.
issuance of regulations and the startup duties will delay implementation
At issue for the 97th Congress is whether continued support of the Bank i s
worthwhile in view of (1) the ability of the Administration
to reduce the
loan pool below a level needed for effective operations, and (2) the prospect
of continued opposition from the Administration.
Four Regional Solar Energy Centers Terminated
On Dec. 24, DOE notified the four regional solar energy centers
that their contracts were being terminated
centers provide technical assistance to aid in the commercialization of solar
technology on a regional basis.
They are the Northeast Solar Energy Center
in Boston, the Mid America Solar Energy Complex in Minnesota, the Southern
Solar Energy Center in Atlanta, and Western Sun in Portland, Oregon.
DOE'S action was taken despite recent expressions of congressional support
for the continuation of the RSECs.
The conference report on the Energy and
Water Development Appropriations Bill (P.L. 97-88) indicated that FY82 RSEC
funding would come from the $15 million solar reserve account.
97-256 on the same bill specifically earmarked $10 million of the reserve
account for the RSECs.
In justifying the shutdown, DOE cited congressional
approval of a general $61 million reduction in solar funding in the,
appropriations bill, the agency's
activities, and a relatively low funding priority for the centers.
The Northeast Center sought and obtained
restraining order on Dec. 2 8 prohibiting DOE from terminating its contract.
I t was reported. that Senator Hatfield concurrently intervened
on behalf of
Western Sun to get DOE to agree to fund that center through February.
suSsequently decided to fund all RSECs through February.
DOE'S decision came
shortly before a scheduled Jan. 7 hearing o n the Northeast Center's
challenge, causing the hearing to be postponed until Jan. 28. That temporary.
reprieve was exhausted and the RSECs were ordered to terminate operations by
the end of May or earlier.
The Southern and Northeast centers plan to remain
open by doing contract work for the private sector and for DOE.