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Mr. Speaker, I rise today, of course, to speak on H.R. 3585, the Solar Technology Roadmap Act.
I would first like to thank the sponsor of the bill, Representative Giffords, and also Chairman Gordon, for working with our side of the aisle to address concerns and incorporating suggestions to the extent that you were able to. While we didn't come to an agreement on everything, we came to an agreement on a lot of things. But I do feel that we were given the opportunity to state our case and make our arguments. Unfortunately, the areas in which we were not able to reach an agreement remain of concern.
Let me start by saying that as a conference, we're supportive of solar energy, and we have so voted--most of the people on my side of the aisle. We certainly see the great potential it has to be a contributor of energy to our constituents. However, as already stated, there's some lingering concerns in the bill before us today.
First, the bill authorizes $2.25 billion over 5 years. This is not an insignificant amount, especially in our current financial climate. The question was raised during consideration of the bill in committee whether or not investment tax credits for solar energy, long-term incentives to develop renewable energy in general or an easing of burdensome regulations would be a better way to encourage the development and use of solar energy.
Solar energy has been on the forefront for over 30 years, and it still only makes up 1 percent of the 7 percent of the renewable energy consumed in the United States according to the Energy Information Administration.
This authorization, coupled with the requirement that the Secretary of Energy allocate at least 75 percent of funding to those solar research, development, and demonstration projects directed under the road map, leaves little flexibility for innovations that may be viable and yet not included as part of the road map.
Second, the bill directs, not requests, it directs the Secretary to spend at least 30 percent in 2012 and culminating with at least 75 percent in 2015. It could be as much as 100 percent on the research, development, and demonstration set forth by the road map committee.
Moreover, at least one-third of the committee must be made up of industry members who are explicitly exempted from the Federal Advisory Committee Act. And this act, as you know, was intended to require an open and transparent process. While I support the Department of Energy, the university, and industry collaboration in the area of solar research, development, and demonstration, the optics of this examination are that you now have a committee, half of whose membership could be industry, telling the Department of Energy where to direct taxpayer money into R&D that could benefit their own companies while not having to answer to anyone or defend their recommendation to the entity that was set up to oversee and to require open and transparent processes.
While I appreciate the inclusion at our suggestion of language dealing with potential conflicts of interests in regard to the road map committee membership, more transparency needs to be incorporated.
During the full committee markup, Republicans attempted to address concerns through amendments that would have reduced the authorization, given the Secretary of DOE some discretion as to how much funding should go to the road map recommendations.
We had some suggestions to sunset the road map committee in 2015. While these amendments were all voted down, I remain hopeful that these issues can be addressed as we move forward.
I would like to point out that the Department of Energy shares some of these same concerns with this bill, and it made the Science and Technology Committee aware of those concerns earlier this week. In particular, they expressed concerns with using the road map committee to direct DOE activities; the requirement of a percentage of funds to be used to support activities identified by the committee; the Federal Advisory Committee Act exemption for the committee; and potential conflicts of interest with the members of the committee.
I support research and development into solar energy technologies, but believe me, this bill has a lot of room for improvement.
With that, I reserve the balance of my time.
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