Coronavirus jeopardizes research funding for USU SELECT Center

An autonomous electric bus undergoes testing at the Sustainable Electrified Transportation center on the USU Innovation Campus in North Logan.

LOGAN — A $3 million appropriation for a Utah State University research center is in jeopardy due to the economic impact of the Coronavirus.

USU spokesperson Emilie Wheeler said that $3 million was earmarked for the Sustainable Electrified Transportation (SELECT) research center at USU in the state budget passed by the Legislature in mid-March.

But that appropriation is no longer guaranteed, according to Matt Jensen, news director for the USU College of Engineering.

“We can’t confirm anything today,” Jensen explained. “Given the current crisis, we’re not 100 percent certain that this appropriation will come through as originally planned.”

That crisis is a fiscal one created by the economic impact of the outbreak of the Coronavirus, according to ranking members of the Utah Legislature.

Per the State Constitution, members of the Utah Senate and House of Representatives passed a $20 billion balanced budget for 2020-21 based on the best revenue estimates by fiscal analysts available during the recently-concluded annual session of the Legislature.

But the revenue estimates used to craft next year’s budget did not predict the economic impact of the business slow-down resulting from the Coronavirus, according to Utah Sen. Lyle Hillyard. Lawmakers are now planning one or more special sessions of the Legislature to adjust the 2020-21 budget as necessary to cope with revised revenue projections.

Founded in 2016, SELECT is a research center where universities pool the talents of their experts to develop innovative electric transportation technologies. The original partners in that effort included USU, Purdue University, the University of Colorado (Boulder) the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and the University of Texas El Paso. The center is located at the Electric Vehicle & Roadway Research Facility/Test Track on the USU Innovation Campus in North Logan.

“What began with five university partners and a dozen faculty members,” explains David M. Christensen, the executive director of SELECT, “has grown to 13 core and affiliated university members with more than 40 researchers with globally recognized expertise across sectors in the electric transportation ecosystem.”

The now-questionable $3 million appropriation for SELECT would have been available after July 1 to fund the center’s ongoing research into ways to make the charging of electric vehicles more efficient.

According to ranking lawmakers, the need for adjustments to the 2020-21 state budget will depend on how quickly the Utah economy returns to normal and final decisions on specific appropriations may not be made until after the next fiscal year begins.

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