GOLDEN, Colo. – President Bush is headed to the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., on Tuesday to talk about speeding up development of biofuels and other energies that can help reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil.
The stop is the last visit of a three-state, two-day trip to promote alternative fuels Bush wants developed as part of his energy-saving initiatives.
The lab, which is supposed to be on the cutting edge of research and technology into alternative fuels, fired 32 people, including eight researchers, recently because of a $28 million budget shortfall. But Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman transferred $5 million to the private contractor running the lab to keep the jobs in place.
The department "has been informed that the NREL lab director will use these funds to immediately restore all of the jobs that were cut earlier this month due to budget shortfalls," Bodman said in a statement Monday.
A NREL statement blamed congressional earmarks for the $28 million budget cut, which will impact the biomass, hydrogen and basic research programs.
NREL works on several alternative energies, including geothermal and wind power, hydrogen and fuel cells, biomass and photovoltaics – which, according to the lab’s Web site, uses semiconductors to convert sunlight directly into electricity and is being researched to help increase the reliability of telecommunications sites during brownouts and disasters. The project is being done in conjunction with Sprint.
The research is just the kind of work that will help create an energy independent nation, which can happen only if Americans are able to decrease their reliance on oil, Bush said Monday. He also said Congress needs to offer incentives to help private firms expand their research and development programs.
"In order to seize this moment, this country has got to be technologically-advanced," Bush said at Milwaukee-based auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Building Efficiency Business. "Technology is really important for the future of this country. ... We have a chance to transform the way we power our economy, and the way we lead our lives."
Bush toured the car-battery factory before traveling to Michigan to visit a solar-power panel factory. The visits are aimed at garnering support for the Advanced Energy Initiative the president proposed in his State of the Union address last month. Members of Bush’s Cabinet also planned visits nationwide to promote the president’s plan.
The president's Advanced Energy Initiative aims to increase funding for science and technology in order to come up with innovative energy solutions. The proposal also calls for more tax credits for alternative fuel and more research cleaner energy sources.
Bush has proposed a 70 percent increase in his 2007 fiscal year budget for the Department of Energy to pay for research into alternative fuels and solar power.
In Wisconsin, Bush spoke about plans to boost spending for research on new types of fuels and vehicles. He touted a proposal supporting hybrid vehicles that require less gas, new fuels to replace gas and alternative cars that don’t run on gas.
Hybrid vehicles, armed with a gasoline engine and an electric battery, allow cars to travel twice as far on a gallon of fuel compared to a typical car, Bush said. More than 200,000 hybrids were sold in the United States in 2005, and demand is increasing, the president said.
The president also focused on a $150 million fund for government and private research into renewable fuels like corn-based ethanol.
“We’re coming up with a way to make something out of nothing,” Bush said.
He added that the nation can help reduce its reliance on natural gas through coal. The price of natural gas tripled this year, giving many Americans a costlier heating bill this winter.
Coal can help reduce that reliance with an abundance of supply in America that could last for 250 years, Bush said. The president also stressed using nuclear and wind power.
"I think we ought to start building nuclear power plants again," Bush said, noting that the United States already has more than 100 nuclear plants. "I think it makes sense to do so."
The Alternative Energy Initiative is part of an effort to rehabilitate America, which the president described in his State of the Union as "addicted to oil." He wants to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by 75 percent in the next 20 years. Right now, the United States gets almost two-thirds of its oil from abroad.
"These countries know we need their oil and that reduces influence," Bush said. "It creates a national security issue when we are held hostage for energy by foreign nations that may not like us."
Bush signed a $12.3 billion, 10-year energy reform bill in August. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 aims to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign sources of energy, strengthen the economy and improve the environment. On Monday, Bush said Republicans and Democrats need to work together to do more to approve incentives for private businesses to invest in alternative energy research and development.
"There’s a lot more that needs to be done,” Bush said. “Congress needs to make the R&D [research and development] tax credit a permanent part of the tax code.”
The Johnson Controls center in Wisconsin is the world’s leading producer of lithium-ion car batteries. The facility is developing a longer-lasting, more efficient hybrid car batteries thanks in part to federal grant money. The plug-in hybrid is different than current cars that rely on oil to recharge; the plug-in would recharge in a wall socket.
Touring the center, Bush was able to compare standard hybrid technology and new lithium-ion battery hybrid vehicles. Johnson Controls CEO John Barth said the lithium-ion battery hybrids are better than the standard hybrids because they are smaller, lighter and have more storage.
Later Monday, Bush visited the United Solar Ovonics Plant, which makes solar panels, in Auburn Hills, Mich., outside Detroit. "This technology right here is going to help us change the way we live in our homes," Bush told reporters.
Bush said he was impressed with the growing commercial uses of solar energy.
"Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house," Bush said. "The vision is this -- that technology will become so efficient that you'll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don't use the energy you generate you'll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid."
United Solar Ovonic — also known as Uni-Solar — makes enough solar sheets in a year to generate about 25 megawatts of electric power. The Uni-Solar expansion is under construction nearby, and Energy Conversion Devices announced last week that it planned a further increase in capacity to 300 megawatts by 2010.
Opponents say the president’s plan falls short and doesn’t push for short-term measures to assist low-income Americans in paying their gas and heating bills.
"President Bush's energy program won't help lower gas prices or slow global warming," said Toby Chaudhuri, a spokesman for the Apollo Alliance, a group that promotes alternatives to oil.
"The president called for ending our addiction to oil but there's no 12-step program in his budget. ... The president's energy policy ... is constrained by lack of imagination, scope, resources and an unwillingness to roll back subsidies to energy companies already enjoying record profits," Chaudhuri said.
FOX News’ Molly Henneberg and Melissa Drosjack and The Associated Press contributed to this report.