Now Is the Time to Invest More, Not Less In Our Clean Energy Future

Remarks as prepared for delivery at the 2018 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit

Hello everyone. I want to thank the Department of Energy for inviting me to share a few words with you today.

This morning it occurred to me that the year we launched ARPA-E was also my first year in the Senate. Since then, it’s clear that ARPA-E has fared a lot better than my Senate career.

To date, the program has helped create 71 new companies and 248 patents. Today, this summit is not only one of smartest gatherings in America; it is also one of the most important.

I say that as a Coloradan who knows the power of energy innovation to create high-paying jobs in our big cities and rural small towns. I say that as a father of three daughters who worries every day about what climate change means for their future. And I say that as a U.S. Senator who wants America to stay on the frontier of new energy technologies — whether it’s more efficient self-driving cars, next-generation batteries that make our electric grid more resilient, or enzymes that help plants capture more carbon in the soil. These innovations promise to transform American life for the better.

So before I say anything else, thank you for devoting your talent to one of the most important challenges of our time.

Bennet tours the Technology Showcase, which featured 20 Colorado projects.

Last April, I had a chance to visit Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Thanks to ARPA-E, the University set up a facility to test new technologies that monitor methane leaks from the oil and gas industry.

The people at CSU were kind enough to show me around, provided I wore a fire-repellant hazmat suit. Here’s what I learned. First, orange isn’t my color. Second, CSU is an incredible institution. Third, and most important, if we get these monitoring technologies right, it’s a win for business, for public health, for climate, and for America’s leadership in clean energy.

That is one of literally hundreds of ARPA-E projects here today — including 20 from Colorado — reminding us that early investment in innovation can yield major benefits down the road.

The good news is that both parties in Washington appreciate that fact. It’s why I can walk into the office of my Republican counterpart from Colorado, Senator Cory Gardner, and have a conversation about supporting clean energy innovation. I could say the same for my dear friend Senator Lamar Alexander, who you’re hearing from later today.

With that said, it’s easy for senators to say they support clean energy. It is another thing to actually support it with long-term planning and investment. On this front, we have some work to do.

First, let’s agree that we need to significantly increase investments in clean energy innovation. Failing to do that is why solar, wind, and battery technologies that America invented are now led by other countries. It’s why Bill Gates had to go to China to find partners in advanced nuclear energy. At a time when China is spending more than $400 billion a year on research, we should not be scaling back programs like ARPA-E. Despite the administration’s budget, we’ve been assured from the Department of Energy that the Secretary fully supports this program.

Second, the federal government can’t just provide more funding. You need funding that’s more reliable and predictable over the long-term. That starts with fixing Washington’s broken budget process. I spent a few years in business before coming to the Senate, so I know the damage that uncertain funding can do to project deadlines, staffing, and relationships with investors. Our government should be making it easier for you to do your work, not harder. That’s why I’m serving on a bipartisan committee looking at how to restore a measure of sanity and predictability to our budgeting.

I see the first two points I raised as my responsibility. On the last point, I’m going to need your help. While Senators Gardner and Alexander may see the benefit of investing in clean energy, that isn’t true for everyone in Congress. And it should be.

So I would ask all of you to think hard, not only about how to develop technologies to solve our energy challenges, but how to communicate their benefits to policy makers. All of us have to make the case.

This month, there will be science fairs in schools across Colorado. If we do our job, we can ensure that, when those kids graduate from college, ARPA-E not only exists but continues to thrive.

This month, there will be science fairs in schools across Colorado. If we do our job, we can ensure that, when those kids graduate from college, ARPA-E not only exists but continues to thrive.

Let me end with this. I know the scope of our energy and climate challenges may seem daunting. Some may feel pessimistic about our ability to solve them. I don’t.

It’s because, no matter what our political challenges, the collective imagination of the American people is an awesome force. And it gives me great confidence that we will find a way to innovate around our challenges. That we will unlock the promise of clean energy. And that — with your help — we will maintain America’s leadership at the frontier of human innovation.