June 28, 2006

Energy Research Gets Big Push

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union


ALBANY -- U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced plans Friday to create a new federal agency that would seek to cut U.S. foreign oil imports in half by 2015.

Schumer made the proposal at the New Energy Symposium, a two-day conference held at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering on Fuller Road. It was organized by New Energy New York, a consortium of more than 30 alternative-energy technology businesses that Schumer helped create in 2002.

Schumer is calling for the creation of the National Energy Efficiency Development Administration, or NEEDA.

He said the agency would need $83 billion in funding over a 10-year period to develop new alternative-energy technologies, money he says should be reallocated from tax breaks given to major oil companies.

"Unless the federal government is going to do it, then no one is going to do it," Schumer said.

Such an agency would likely be a major funding source for alternative-energy companies in the Capital Region, such as Halfmoon-based solar-cell manufacturer DayStar Technologies Inc., Colonie-based fuel-cell manufacturers Plug Power Inc. and MTI MicroFuel Cells Inc., and Schenectady-based SuperPower Inc.

William Acker, co-founder of MTI Micro and chairman of New Energy New York, said Schumer's plan could be a major advancement for the alternative-energy industry.

"It is going to take a major initiative like Senator Schumer's program to wean ourselves from foreign oil," he said.

Pradeep Haldar, executive director of New Energy New York and director of UAlbany's Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center, said his group at the university has been working with the senator on his proposal.

Alternative-energy companies are growing too slowly, Haldar said, and New York state is already spending $55 billion annually on energy -- almost all of which leaves the state. He said spending $83 billion on the federal level over 10 years could do a lot just for New York.

But he says it has to be done now, not over the next 20 years.

"We need to accelerate the time frame," Haldar said. "This will make the U.S. a leader again."

Schumer, who compared creating NEEDA to the space race and the formation of NASA, said he has been working on creating the framework for the agency for the past six months.

He plans to introduce his legislation "in the next few weeks."

Schumer's plan would seek to reduce foreign oil imports by 5 percent by 2008, 20 percent by 2011 and 50 percent by 2015.

NEEDA would have several divisions, including incentives and venture capital units that would make money available to private companies developing technology innovations.

"We have to be first in the whole world," Schumer said. "We cannot just rely on the old technologies."

Schumer also said NEEDA would take over some responsibilities from the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation. He said he envisions NEEDA setting policy on automobile fuel efficiency, or CAFE standards. Schumer also proposed a new tax credit to promote ethanol production in New York and the creation of a commission to study updating state and local energy and environmental regulations to provide alternative-energy sources.

The symposium, which had more than 200 attendees representing more than 90 companies, highlighted just how competitive the alternative-energy market will be. The conference's organizers had two fuel-cell-powered cars and one ethanol car parked outside. The fuel-cell cars, made by General Motors and Honda, cost more than $1 million to produce.

Raymond Kenard, president of American Wind Power & Hydrogen LLC in New York City, was looking at the cars and noted that he can produce cars powered directly on hydrogen for one-tenth the cost.

"The problem is what are you doing to do for today, not tomorrow," he said.