A special legislative session won't be needed immediately to adequately fund fusion research, Gov. Norm Bangerter said Tuesday.
Bangerter wants $5 million - probably from the state's surplus - to begin research on the revolutionary fusion experiment of University of Utah professor B. Stanley Pons and turn it into commercial energy production."In the short run, we'll use (money from) the Centers of Excellence," Bangerter said. "If all of those funds are allocated, we'll reallocate and the Legislature can replenish the centers' funds later." The centers' program has about $250,000, but it is currently allocated to other projects.
Republican legislative leaders balked Monday at an April special session, saying they don't know enough about Pons' experiments, that it's too soon after February's general session to reconvene and that couldn't be spent wisely right away. They favor a July or August special session. Bangerter, who Friday said an immediate special session might be necessary, now agrees.
Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff, said no state money will be spent on developing Pons' process for commercial use until after independent scientific research verifies his work. That thorough proof can't happen for several months, Scruggs said.
Federal money will soon start flowing to the university anyway, officials said.
A Department of Energy grant has been approved to enable the scientists to continue their basic research. The $322,000 grant, expected to be awarded in May, is for 18 months. It's for research into the process only, not for figuring out how to build electrical power plants with Pons' process.
The Utah Business and Economic Board Tuesday passed a resolution recommending that the centers' program manage any funding for fusion development and commercialization.
Lynn H. Blake, director of business development for the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, who oversees the Centers of Excellence Program, said, "Not anticipating that something like this was going to happen, we have obligated all funds except $7,000 for this fiscal year. If funds are needed between now and July 1, then there would need to be additional funds provided in order to accomplish that goal."
James Brophy, U. vice president for research, said the U. has received 200 calls from corporations interested in commercializing the breakthrough.
"It is important that Utah be a player in the game," he told the board. "Funds from Utah as seed money would be beneficial in attracting corporate funds."
Brophy said he "has no doubt that the science will be confirmed." But he recommended not spending any money until a good program is formulated and approved. He anticipated that will happen soon.
Brophy said "if everything goes right" in three to five years, there could be small power plants; 10-20 years before fusion power is integrated into society.