By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com
NEW YORK — President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for energy secretary will likely lead the department through a new era with a sharp focus on renewable energy, but who’ll lead a revamped agency is far from clear.
Despite what some may think, the current Department of Energy isn’t really about wind or solar power. It’s not even about coal, oil or gas. Mainly, the agency is about nuclear – nuclear weapons to be exact.
The new agency is likely to focus on a big push into renewable R&D greater conservation efforts and some role in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.
Currently about $15 billion out of the department’s $24 billion dollar budget is spent maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, cleaning up sites used to produce those weapons, or dealing with non-proliferation issues.
Spending on energy programs and research – including nuclear, fossil fuels, renewables, and conservation – totals about $4 billion. Research into renewables alone totals just over $650 million.
“There’s a misconception that the prime responsibility of the energy secretary is energy,” said Melanie Kenderdine, an associate director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative and a former department head at DOE. “It’s really nuclear weapons, cleanup, and proliferation.”
The agency will likely retain it’s nuclear focus, although that branch has been gaining independence from the energy side since the Clinton Administration.
“Under Obama you’re likely to see an energy secretary focus more on energy rather than nuclear weapons,” said Paul Bledsoe, strategy director for National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan research group.
Who Obama might pick for the post remains a mystery – The Obama team would not comment. But some names discussed include Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., former NATO commander Wesley Clark, Google’s renewable energy guru Dan Reicher, MIT’s Ernest Moniz, even the Republican governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bledsoe thinks it’s likely to be a governor.