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More Federal Interest in Private Fusion: DOE Seeks Input on Possible Cost Share Program to Support Private Fusion Energy Companies

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) issued a formal Request for Information (“RFI”)[1] seeking input from all interested stakeholders regarding a “possible cost share program in fusion reactor technologies.”[2]  DOE is requesting comments by May 15, 2020.

This RFI process offers an opportunity for the private fusion community[3] to present its views on how a federal cost-sharing program can leverage private capital, nimble entrepreneurship, and technological advancement to accelerate the commercialization and deployment of fusion energy systems in the United States. 

Background

As part of its Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations legislation, Congress directed DOE to prepare and submit a plan for a federal cost-sharing program.[4]  Congress requested this plan by June 17, 2020, and asked that it consider “program objectives, eligibility requirements, and a funding profile for future fiscal years.”[5]  Congress also directs that DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (“FESAC”) consider the establishment of a cost share program as part of FESAC’s review of strategic planning for the future of fusion energy in the United States.[6]

Congress’s directives follow increased U.S. support for fusion energy research and development.  DOE has established the “INFUSE” program to connect private fusion companies with national laboratories and provide grants for use of national labs’ resources.  Separately, the Advanced Research Programs Agency – Energy (“ARPA-E”) has supported private fusion energy efforts via the ALPHA program and has awarded $32 million across 15 programs as part of the follow-up “BETHE” program.[7]

The RFI

Against the backdrop of recent support for fusion energy development outlined above and “recognizing the recent surge in interest and investments by the private sector in the development of fusion energy,” DOE’s Office of Science uses the RFI to ask for perspectives on the following topics:

  • Topical areas

  • Program objectives

  • Eligibility requirements

  • Program organization and structure

  • Public and private roles and responsibilities

  • Funding modalities

  • Assessment criteria

Just as DOE modeled the INFUSE program on the agency’s GAIN program that provided vouchers for innovative fission energy research at national laboratories, the RFI suggests that DOE’s cost share program for private fusion energy could follow the examples of DOE’s cost-sharing programs for Small Modular Reactors, the non-voucher part of the GAIN program, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

Taking Action

Like DOE explained regarding a separate request for information for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programs in the fission context, this RFI will be the private fusion communities’ “opportunity to provide input into the [funding] process and influence the direction of the program.”[8]  The timing of comments by May 15 should also allow DOE to include them in its June report to Congress on a plan for a fusion public-private partnership cost share program.

Thoughtful input for DOE’s review now, highlighting the momentum across the private fusion sector and the potential for rapid progress with additional capital investment, can lay the foundation for a sustainable federal program to support private fusion in the years to come. To build on this support, the Fusion Industry Association has advocated for the creation of such a federal cost-sharing program and expects that its membership will support DOE’s efforts to commence work on a federal cost share for fusion energy development.[9]  Please contact our team if you would like to discuss ways to maximize this opportunity to shape DOE’s potential cost-sharing program for private fusion in the future.


[1] Dep’t of Energy; Cost-Sharing Partnerships with the Private Sector in Fusion Energy, 85 Fed. Reg. 21842 (Apr. 20, 2020).

[2] Id.

[3] For additional information regarding legal and policy issues that the emerging fusion energy industry faces, please see our past review of the topic” published by in February 2019. Barton J. Gordon, et al., Capital and R&D Support Emerging for Private Fusion Energy Development, But Questions Remain as Fusion Sector Evolves, 19-2 Pratt’s Energy Law Report 37 (Feb. 2019), available at http://www.klgates.com/files/Publication/64aba85d-61ce-41e4-a37c-ffe272ea1c2e/Presentation/PublicationAttachment/040b4810-3c2a-4fde-9d5a-0d8112e3f1e0/Pratts_Energy_Law_Report.pdf

[4] FY-20 Energy & Water Development Appropriations for DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences program,   Congressional Record H11248 (Dec. 17, 2019) (https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/aipcorp/images/fyi/pdf/Budgets/fy20-approps-doe-science-final-explanatory-statement.pdf).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. As outlined in DOE’s 2018 charge letter outlining FESAC’s long-range strategic planning activity, DOE had already asked FESAC to consider “providing support for private-public partnership ventures.”  DOE’s charge letter is available here: https://science.osti.gov/-/media/fes/fesac/pdf/2018/FESAC_Charge_Letter_on_Strategic_Planning.pdf?la=en&hash=839F70008605FAE3D1BEAE5B6AE8973292FFA5DC.

[7] Our team recently summarized efforts in the United States and around the world to support fusion energy development, including government support, here: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/overview-policy-and-technical-progress-fusion-energy-development-around-world.

[8] Status of Advanced Nuclear Demonstration Programs, U.S. Dep’t of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy at slide 8 (Feb. 18, 2020) https://www.id.energy.gov/NEWS/ARDFO/ARDFOOpportunities/RFI_BRIEFING.PPTX.

[9] Building a Public-Private Partnership Cost-Share Program for Fusion Power, Fusion Indus. Ass’n (Apr. 20, 2020), https://www.fusionindustryassociation.org/post/building-a-cost-share-program-for-fusion-power.

Copyright 2020 K & L GatesNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 112

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Tim Peckinpaugh, KL Gates Law Firm, Energy and Environment Attorney
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Tim Peckinpaugh’s practice focuses on energy, environmental, and natural resource legislative and funding issues.

Mr. Peckinpaugh has represented clients for thirty years in all aspects of energy policy, including nuclear, hydroelectric, coal, oil and natural gas, electricity, as well as a variety of clean technology and energy efficiency issues. He also represents major international corporations and local communities on Department of Energy nuclear cleanup, nuclear security, and contracting issues. In addition, Mr. Peckinpaugh represents...

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Mr. Stimers focuses his policy advocacy efforts on matters related to emerging technologies, such as commercial spaceflight, IT, nanotechnology, and water technology, and advises a wide range of companies and industry associations in pursuing legislation and representing their interests before Congress and federal agencies. 

As policy counsel to several major commercial spaceflight companies and the leading industry association for commercial spaceflight, Paul has been active in helping the industry grow quickly and safely, while continuing to support a strong role for NASA in space exploration. He has addressed a wide variety of areas of space law and policy, including: licensing and permitting of launch and reentry; liability, insurance, and indemnification; property rights in space; manufacturing and resource utilization in space; air and space traffic management; and debris mitigation. 

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Mike O’Neill is an associate in the firm’s Boston office and focuses his practice on energy, infrastructure, and natural resources issues. His practice deals primarily with energy and environmental issues, particularly with respect to natural gas and oil, especially under the Natural Gas Act, liquefied natural gas (LNG), pipeline safety and compliance, natural gas tariffs, and commodities regulation. He practices primarily before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) and the Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration (“PHMSA”). He also has...

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Abraham Johns, KL Gates Law Firm, Washington DC, Environmental and Energy Law Attorney
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Abraham Johns is an associate at the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. He is a member of the oil & gas practice group.

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