World and Nation

A call to triple U.S. spending 
on energy research

WASHINGTON — The United States is badly lagging in basic research on new forms of energy, deepening the nation’s dependence on dirty fuels and crippling its international competitiveness, a diverse group of business executives warn in a study to be released Thursday.

The group, which includes Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft; Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric; and John Doerr, a top venture capitalist, urges the government to more than triple spending on energy research and development, to $16 billion a year. And it recommends creation of a national energy strategy board to guide investment decisions toward radical advances in energy technology.

Gates said in an interview that drastic changes were needed in the way the United States produced and consumed energy to assure its security and to begin to address climate change. He endorsed the administration’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 but said that was not possible with today’s technology or politics.

“Among all the swirl of different ideas of how to raise the money and how to regulate carbon,” he said, “there is no way, either in this country or internationally, you’re going to come close to meeting an 80 percent reduction unless you have an immense breakthrough.”

Gates and his fellow executives are stepping forward at what may prove a pivotal moment in American energy policy. Oil continues to spew from a crippled well in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration is pushing for a new approach to energy and climate policy and the Senate is about to embark on a debate on a set of conflicting proposals that pit not only Republicans against Democrats but different regions of the country against each other.

There is no assurance that this latest effort will produce new ideas or bear fruit.

The executive group, which calls itself the American Energy Innovation Council, will propose a series of measures that it hopes will transcend the politics of the moment and put the nation on a path to a different energy future.

The group notes that the federal government now spends less than $5 billion a year on energy research and development, not counting one-time stimulus package projects. The government spends about $30 billion annually on health research and more than $80 billion on military R&D. They advocate a quantum jump in spending on basic energy research.