I call bullshit!
GOLDEN, Colo. – The federal government’s dream of a renewable energy empire hinges on a scrubby outpost here, where scientists and executives doggedly explore a
If you live outside Colorado, you probably haven’t heard of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory – NREL for short. It’s the place where solar panels, windmills and corn are deemed the energy source of the future and companies who support such endeavors are courted.
It’s also the place where highly paid staff decide how to spend hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.
And the public pays those decision-makers well: NREL’s top executive, Dr. Dan Arvizu, makes close to a million dollars per year. His two top lieutenants rake in more than half a million each and nine others make more than $350,000 a year.
But what is really going on there? Energy expert Amy Oliver Cooke drove out to the site, which looks something like Nevada’s Area 51 with its remote location and forbidding concrete buildings. NREL had started a construction project and Cooke wanted to see for herself. She didn’t get far: a man in an SUV seemingly appeared out of nowhere, stopped her car, and told her to leave.
“A beefy looking fellow told me, ‘It’s top secret,’ said Cooke, director of the Energy Policy Center at the Independence Institute think tank. “I said, ‘I’m a taxpayer and I want to see what you’re building’ and he said it was it was ‘top secret so we can bring Americans a better future.’”
With its bloated budget and overseen by a $533 million a year government-funded management company, Cooke isn’t buying it.
“NREL has given us two of the most significant boondoggles, one of them being ethanol and the other being (bankrupt) Abound Solar,” she said. “They were part of the team that pushed Abound Solar along. In fact, they wrote in March 2011 on their website how proud they were of their role in abound solar.
“Am I impressed with NREL? No, not really,” she said.
NREL’s taxpayer-funded management company has seen its budget more than double since 2006. That’s when one of its most ardent supporters, Rep. Ed Perlmutter D-Lakewood, was first elected to Congress. The lab sits in the middle of his district.
But Perlmutter’s ties go beyond merely promoting green legislation and lobbying his colleagues for NREL funds. He has received $12,670 in campaign contributions from executives of NREL and its management company, MRIGlobal, a company that describes itself as “an independent, not-for-profit organization that performs contract research for government and industry.” Perlmuter’s father has served as a trustee for MRI and MRIGlobal during the past decade. Between 2003 and 2005, Perlmutter was also a trustee. These positions were unpaid.
Perlmutter did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this story.
FOLLOWING THE MONEY
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, NREL started in 1977 as the Solar Energy Research Institute, a Jimmy Carter-era response to the 1973 Mideast oil crisis. Its budget, then about $100 million, was slashed during the Reagan era.
By the time Perlmutter was elected, NREL’s budget was $209.6 million. It increased steadily before ballooning to $536.5, a beneficiary of President Obama’s stimulus plan and a $135 million contract spread out over five years to construct a new science center. Its current $352 million budget is down slightly from last year’s $388.6 million.
A million dollar government employee? Hardly. What does he do to warrant that kind a dough? Seriously, he’s a public employee. The President doesn’t get that kind of pay, neither do the generals at the Pentagon, and they fight wars and make life changing decisions every day. What’s this guy do? I looked up the managing company profiles. Yikes!
Battelle and MRIGlobal formed Alliance solely to be NREL’s management and operating (M&O) contractor. Alliance, which is equally owned and governed by Battelle and MRIGlobal, is fully accountable to DOE for NREL’s performance under the new contract. The Battelle-MRIGlobal team has a history of successfully working together and takes pride in NREL’s long association with DOE.
A prime goal of Alliance is to ensure that NREL becomes the catalyst for the creation of a renewable energy epicenter. Initially, it will be centered at the Laboratory, but will eventually expand to help bring about global adoption of clean energy. Alliance wants to create an opportunity for NREL to become the focal point for renewable energy—a “Silicon Valley for renewables.”
Alliance will accomplish this through:
- Strengthening NREL’s scientific, technical and analytical foundations by adding talent and connecting the Laboratory to the nation’s research engine at leading universities and laboratories.
- Creating a Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis in partnership with MIT, Stanford and the Colorado research universities. This will provide credible and objective technology, market and policy insights that will inform R&D, commercialization, policy and market decisions to accelerate the impact of our portfolio on national energy goals.
- Introducing new people, systems and approaches for commercialization and deployment to move innovations rapidly from concept to customer.
- Building a “Campus of the Future” that leverages our partnerships and showcases sustainable energy on and near the NREL site.
Creating a safe and supportive work environment for this vibrant, innovative and entrepreneurial Laboratory that will attract and retain the best talent from around the world.
Okay, money pit. That’s the bottom line here. Somebody tell me what they’ve discovered, patented or created to will lead to some kind of breakthrough.
While these guys are having meetings, remember the group over at UCLA?
Amazing that the government can’t find any waste. Must be a bunch of blind folks looking. Just saying…