Gates, other execs call for more energy spending

Group of business leaders says the U.S. lags behind other countries in spending on alternative energy and must change its current energy policies.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Bill Gates and other corporate figures say America's current energy strategy is hurting the economy, the environment, and national security and is asking the government to devote more money to fuel alternative energy.

The group, dubbed the American Energy Innovation Council (AEIC), released a detailed report on Thursday highlighting the problem and offering its own recommendations (PDF). Members of the group were due to meet with President Obama in the White House to discuss their concerns and possible remedies.

The group sees the energy challenge as more serious and much worse than most people realize, predicting a burden that will become more costly unless the U.S. can change its current energy policies.

In its findings, the group pointed out that the nation spends $80 billion a year on military research and $30 billion a year on health and medical R&D, but only around $5 billion each year on new energy R&D. With such a small amount of the national budget devoted toward energy research, the group believes the U.S. lags behind other countries in spending on alternative energy.

The U.S. spends considerably less on energy R&D than on defense and health, says the AEIC. American Energy Innovation Council

To remedy the situation, the AEIC is offering five specific recommendations:

  • Invest a minimum of $16 billion a year on clean energy. The group said that the U.S. currently spends $16 billion overseas on foreign fuel every 16 days.
  • Fund ARPA-E at $1 billion per year. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was the key agency involved in launching the Internet and today focuses on high-risk but high-payoff technologies. ARPA's energy branch can serve a similar function in researching and helping to commercialize alternative-energy projects, said the AEIC.
  • Create Centers of Excellence with strong expertise and resources in specific fields. Universities and laboratories can fill this need by providing access to testing facilities to help spur research, said the group.
  • Create an independent national energy strategy board. Such a board would develop and monitor a new national energy plan for Congress.
  • Establish and fund a New Energy Challenge Program to build large-scale pilot projects. Reporting to the energy strategy board, this program would work on ramping up energy technologies to reach commercial or near-commercial levels.

In addition to Gates, AEIC members include General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, former Lockheed Martin Chairman Norman Augustine, Bank of America Chairman Chad Holliday, and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, among other prominent names from the business world..

As the nation grapples with the effects of the BP oil spill, the group is hoping to seize the day to get its message across. Jason Grumet, an adviser to the group, told The New York Times that what sets this effort apart from others is not only the members of the panel but the moment in American history.

"In the shadow of the tragedy in the gulf," Grumet told the Times, "to have people who are iconic figures in the fabric of the American economy saying it's time to choose our energy future creates the possibility of a Sputnik moment in the American political dialogue."