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US Use of Renewables Behind Japan, Europe

IS the United States losing the race to develop renewable energy? A coalition of more than 20 consumer, environmental, and industrial organizations is calling on Washington to more than double spending on research and development for energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal.

Europe and Japan could soon pull ahead of the US, and this country could lose valuable export markets, the coalition warns.

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Scott Sklar, executive director of the Solar Energy Industries Association, says: ``The European Community ... is outspending the US by 30 times on renewable energy export promotions, while Germany, Italy, and Japan already outspend the US on photovoltaic, wind, and other renewable energy R&D.''

President Bush is asking for an $11 million increase to $172 million for renewable energy in 1992. But that still is only a fraction of what it was in the 1970s.

The coalition, which includes Public Citizen, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Wind Energy Association, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, and others, wants the budget for renewables boosted to $462 million in 1992, $572 million in 1993, and $653 million in 1994.

The Bush administration is focusing most of its research-and-development funds on fossil and nuclear options. But all sides agree that the potential for renewable energy is great.

One privately funded study found that a small California valley, the Carrizo Plain, could theoretically be filled with solar collectors and create enough electricity to power the entire state.

Wind power also appears to have great potential. Windmills produced a record 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours in 1990.

Excluding areas like cities and wilderness preserves, the US is estimated to have wind-energy potential of more than 100 quads, or more than all the energy used in this country last year.

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Energy Secretary James Watkins's request for renewable funding in fiscal year 1992 was originally higher, but the White House cut it by 26 percent, the coalition report observes.

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