Lankford Wants US to Remain Energy Leader While Protecting R&D from China

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A on YouTube.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing to examine the role of the Department of Energy (DOE) and energy innovation in American economic competitiveness. Lankford’s questions focused on how the US can promote innovation and in which areas we may be stifling innovation, as well as how we can protect our world-class research and development from theft by nations like China that are notorious for intellectual property theft and reproduction.

Last year, Lankford continued his effort to permanently phase out and end the wind production tax credit (PTC) since the wind industry is no longer “emerging” and is now one of the primary energy sources in Oklahoma.  The PTC was established nearly three decades ago as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, and since its adoption, wind power has grown tremendously into a self-sustainable, multibillion-dollar industry. In September, Lankford introduced legislation to completely phase out the federal production tax credit (PTC) for renewables, including wind. The bill specified that any new projects would need to begin construction by the end of 2020 in order to qualify for the credit, which was the case under current law.

The witness panel included Dr. Thomas Mason, Director at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Mr.  Paul M. Dabbar, Chairman and CEO of Bohr Quantum Technologies Corp. and Former Under Secretary for Science at DOE; Ms. Sarah Ladislaw, Managing Director of the US Program at RMI, and Dr. Lara Pierpoint, Director of Climate at Actuate.


On energy innovation and Lankford’s push to end the wind PTC

Lankford: Ms. Ladislaw, you mentioned several times about innovation and the focus on energy innovation and what has happened with DOE already. I’d be interested to be able to dig in what we’re doing policy-wise to be able to continue to encourage the next level of innovation, the next level of energy development, and what we’re going to discourage innovation in the process, both in our policies—tax policy, investment strategy, whatever it may be. We’ve done a lot of investment in the past. We have more to go. What are we doing to discourage innovation? What are we doing to encourage it at this point?

Ladislaw: I think the US is not doing enough on thinking about not just how do we create the best ideas in the world—we already do that to a certain extent—but how do we become the people who put them into the market first, to understand what is working or not working in some of those technologies, and improve on that in real time and much more quickly because I think our competitors are prepared to move more quickly than we are.

Lankford: So are we investing too much in incumbent technologies because we’ve put billions of dollars into technologies that already exist and that are already developed—in different tax credits and other things—the wind tax credit is one of those examples that we’ve done—the PTC—for years. Wind is clearly no longer a new technology on it, but we still continue to spend billions of dollars to be able to reinforce that as well. Should we spend some of those dollars on new technologies or continue to invest in incumbent technologies?

Ladislaw: I tend to think that we need to think about new types of challenges as they apply to those types of technologies. So, for example, wind is not done innovating, right? There are new types of wind technologies; there’s new types of solar technologies. So we need to think about how and where to spend dollars to incentivize the improvement of technologies and their performance and their very nature. But also, how do you integrate them into the grid…

On US research and development security from bad actors like China

Lankford: Obviously it’s good to have multiple voices that are out there to be able to look at it, multiple different pathways, but the security side of this is extremely important as well, that when we’re developing technology and resources, we’re not just sharing information, but we’re also not exporting information to other folks like China that want to be able to steal that information. How do you see the best way for us to be able to balance the continued sharing of information but also protecting the security of information, to make sure that we’re not keeping things in silos but to also make sure we’re not giving away what we’re doing?

Dabbar: One of the things that we did at DOE, and a little bit more of the details that Senator Barrasso and Senator Heinrich talked about, was that we actually created something called a ‘Risk Matrix,’ which we actually wed—with the chief technology officers, research officers of each of the different labs—that we wed technology with technology, and we identified at the basic research level, which of the areas are really open science. There’s many things, obviously energy, many areas of energy are open science and other areas, and then what very specifically—let’s say—battery technologies that become military grade…and we actually created a whole matrix that’s pretty darn thick because we went technology by technology subsets, and when we put walls in place to saying this is completely open and this is going to be classified. And actually the labs all have this, and it’s policy right now as a part of that.