January 7, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Battery funds may be in mix

Congressional Dems, Obama consider using stimulus bill to finance advanced car research.

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats and President-elect Barack Obama are considering allocating money for new advanced vehicles and advanced battery research from an $800 billion stimulus bill expected to pass Congress by next month.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said lawmakers are making a big push for battery research and production in the United States.

"I'd be very surprised if there is not serious money for batteries in the stimulus bill," Carper said. "If we're going to put all this money into battery development, it's important to me and I think my colleagues that we build those batteries right here in America."

Michigan's congressional delegation led by the House's senior member, Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, met Monday and agreed to push for at least $1 billion in additional battery research funds.

Congress is weighing a number of different options, including allocating a specific amount of money for battery research, creating a broad-based manufacturing support program or doubling the $25 billion loan program that was funded by Congress in September to help pay for retooling factories to build more fuel-efficient vehicles. The stimulus bill is expected to contain about $300 billion in tax cuts, including a $500 individual tax cut and $100 billion in business tax cuts. Another $77 billion is planned to extend unemployment benefits and help people who have lost jobs obtain health care.

Other funds would go to public works projects like road building and other unspecified alternative energy programs.

The Energy Department has received more than 70 applications for funds from the retooling program, also known as the Advanced Vehicle Technology program, but hasn't said when it might begin issuing loans.

Detroit's Big Three automakers have applied for about $22 billion in loans from the program. Other companies seeking money include Troy-based auto supplier Delphi Corp. and electric car startup Tesla Motors, which applied for $400 million. On Monday, South Carolina-based electric vehicle maker RTEV Inc. said it applied, seeking $15 million.

A consortium of 14 U.S. technology companies have applied for about $1 billion to build a plant to produce advanced batteries, including Johnson Controls Inc. and 3M.

General Motors Corp. had sought about $8 billion for use in its plug-in electric Chevrolet Volt program and its Chevrolet Cruze program. Ford Motor Co. has sought $5 billion. Chrysler LLC has sought $8.5 billion from the retooling program.

Members of Congress have been pushing for weeks to convince the incoming administration and congressional leaders of the need to push battery research. The money would help with projects like GM's Volt, a plug-in vehicle that will be able to get up to 40 miles on one electric charge that is supposed to go into production in the fall of 2010.

Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Carl Levin, D-Detroit, along with 11 other senators wrote congressional leaders urging them to add into the stimulus bill "$1 billion in grants to support advanced battery manufacturing research in the U.S."

They also called for $295 million to support research and development of energy storage systems to support development of electric vehicles, $90 million for grants to support state and local governments' use of electric vehicles, and $245 million in grants to add electric recharging ports at truck stops.

Obama in August called for $50 billion in retooling funds, saying it was "critical."

Nick Shapiro, an Obama spokesman, said it was too early to say what specific programs would be funded in a stimulus package.

Levin said he'd like to see grants aimed at production rather than loans. He said he hoped the Obama administration will make manufacturing a key issue.

"Did our TV (manufacturing) industry leave because of the TV executives? Did our radio industry leave because of our radio executives?" Levin said. "No, because of certain aspects where other countries are just focusing on the value of manufacturing."

Levin said it was critical the Energy Department move "soon" to allocate the first $25 billion in advanced technology loans.

Energy Department spokeswoman Healy Baumgardner said the applications "are currently under rigorous and thorough review."

"We are moving with all deliberate speed in reviewing the applications," Baumgardner said.

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or dshepardson@detnews.com">dshepardson@detnews.com.