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Energy Week Ahead: Clinton, Gates Give Chu Cover on Clean Energy

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates and former President Bill Clinton are lending their political clout to the Energy Department’s research projects just as Republicans question federal funding of the program.

The department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy holds its “Energy Innovation Summit” today through Feb. 29 at the National Harbor complex south of the U.S. Capitol. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and FedEx Corp. (FDX) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith are among speakers at the convention, which draws companies awarded U.S. funding for energy research.

High-profile support from Clinton and Gates may be a poke in the eye to House Republicans, who criticize Chu’s budget and effectiveness. President Barack Obama is seeking a 27 percent bump in funding for ARPA-E, to $350 million, from last year. Since September, the department canceled six ARPA-E projects that won a combined $14.1 million for clean-energy research, though $3.7 million was returned to the Treasury.

“The fact that several projects are not panning out is not surprising, given the lack of accountability or clear direction for these dollars,” Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a Feb. 14 statement.

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., left, and Former President Bill Clinton testify during a hearing in Washington, on Wednesday, March 10, 2010. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg Close

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Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., left, and Former President Bill Clinton testify during a hearing in Washington, on Wednesday, March 10, 2010. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The research agency will award $30 million for projects to develop lightweight fuel tanks for natural gas-powered vehicles, the Energy Department announced Feb. 23.

Internet Model

ARPA-E, modeled after a Defense Department program that developed the Internet, puts seed money behind potentially revolutionary energy projects. By nature, some will fail, say program backers. Breakthroughs may reduce dependence on foreign oil, reduce carbon emissions and keep the U.S. at the cutting edge of clean-energy technology.

Investments that didn’t pan out are a sliver of ARPA-E’s spending. In September the agency awarded $156 million for 60 projects such as energy storage and electric-grid efficiency. Recipients include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and General Electric Co. (GE) The Energy Department says 11 funded companies attracted a combined $200 million from private investors.

“We think this is money very well spent,” Chu said of ARPA-E at a Feb. 14 budget briefing.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING:

EPA ARGUMENTS: Miners, utilities and manufacturers get two days in court this week to argue for repeal of Environmental Protection Agency decisions tied to controlling greenhouse-gas emissions. The Coalition for Responsible Regulation Inc., Peabody Energy Co. (BTU), the National Mining Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are among challengers to the EPA’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health. Arguments will be held tomorrow and Feb. 29 in the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia.

FRACKING RICHES: Fracking for natural gas in southeast Ohio will be discussed at a hearing in Steubenville today held by the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee panel on energy and mineral resources. Some landowners in Dean Martin’s hometown have benefitted from millions of dollars in bonus checks from drilling companies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Ellis at dellis5@bloomberg.net

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