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DOE memo: sunset for federal solar program?

Almost one year ago, to the great pleasure of solar-energy advocates, President Carter made those remarks while dedicating a shining array of solar collectors mounted on the White House roof.

Now, however, solar lobbyists and at least one congressman are concerned that the administration may be ready to de-emphasize solar energy, and government accountants say there's no plan anyway for achieving Mr. Carter's goal.

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In a May 17 memo to top aides, Secretary of Energy Charles W. Duncan Jr. proposed cutting government spending for solar and conservation programs over the next five fiscal years and increasing the amount for fossil fuel and nuclear energy development, including radioactive waste managemen and the controversial "breeder" reactor. The Solar Lobby obtained a copy of the internal memo and denounced the apparent trend.

The memo comes on the heels of a General Accounting.Office report that concluded the Department of Energy (DOE) has no plan of attack for achieving the President's 20 percent goal.

Rep. Richard L. Ottinger (D) of New York has called Mr. Duncan before his Energy Development and Applications Subcommittee on June 12 to explain what the congressman calls "another apparent Carter reverse, abandoning his long-celebrated commitment to solar and conservation."

The memo seems to indicate that between 1982 and 1986 the DOE would like to spend 36 percent of its money on nuclear and fossil fuel programs, up from 32 percent in the projected 1981 budget. Combined solar and conservation, meanwhile, would decrease from a 1981 level of 27 percent to 19 percent.

But the DOE maintains the memo was a tentative plan and that much more money is spent government-wide on solar energy than appears in the DOE budget. This includes revenue that would not be realized because of the income tax credit on solar energy.

Solar activists question the DOE explanation, pointing to mixed White House support in the year following Mr. Carter's speech. After pushing for the new 40 percent income tax credit on solar installations, the administration withdrew its full support from a proposed $450 million solar-conservation bank, designed to help howeowners finance the purchase of energy-saving devices.

What these documents seem to indicate is a growing rift between the White House and the dozens of politically active solar energy and conservation groups.

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