What has the National Renewable Energy Lab done for the public good?

See also: Top fifteen inventions and innovations of the National Renewable Energy Lab

What has the National Renewable Energy Lab done for the public good?

On a hot Tuesday afternoon, Lori Maloney slumps in a lawn chair by her garden, staring at the cars and buses whizzing by on the freshly paved Research Road that the Department of Energy finished constructing this spring. This new two-way street leads to a gated entrance to the campus of the National Renewable Energy Lab, which is in the midst of a massive building project.

See also: Top fifteen inventions and innovations of the National Renewable Energy Lab

The road also goes straight through what was previously the Maloney family's property, right over land once occupied by a 30-by-45-foot garage.

Lori Maloney lost some of her land — and much of her sense of security — to NREL's expansion.
Mark Manger
Lori Maloney lost some of her land — and much of her sense of security — to NREL's expansion.
The Department of Energy's Jeff Baker has been heading the NREL expansion project.
Mark Manger
The Department of Energy's Jeff Baker has been heading the NREL expansion project.

"I feel like every time somebody's driving by, they're wondering what I'm doing," Maloney says with a sigh. Just a few feet away, a small creek burbles softly; a hundred feet away, the lunch-hour traffic rush continues. "I just feel like I'm on display."

The Maloneys have lived in Pleasant View — a small, unincorporated part of Jefferson County adjacent to the city of Golden — since 1982. The property wasn't visible from nearby thoroughfares, and Lori and her husband, Paul, reached it from a side road. "It was peaceful. It was like we were detached from the city," she remembers. But all that changed after the DOE partnered with Jeffco to build a new route to the national laboratory dedicated to renewable energy. Research Road, which became the Maloneys' address this summer, opens up their property to a new roundabout constructed in conjunction with NREL's new entranceway.

The family gave up close to an acre so that the DOE could build this road; the county used eminent domain, or the threat of eminent domain, to acquire not just their property, but a total of 45,409 square feet of land from other local owners. Officials with NREL — which is owned and funded by the DOE but operated by a private entity called the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC — insist that the road is a tiny but vital component of an impressive expansion that will help fuel groundbreaking energy innovations. For 35 years, the lab has been researching solar, wind and other renewable technologies; a new 182,500-square-foot facility slated for completion next month will allow NREL to conduct unprecedented research projects.

But for the Maloneys, that road represents a devastating loss that comes with years of grief tied up in legal battles and construction woes. The permanent changes to their property are so bad that Lori and Paul sometimes question whether they want to stay. And that's not their only question. Eminent domain allows governments to seize land and compensate property owners if the land grab is done for a "public good." But what "public good" has actually come out of this lab over the past three decades?

"All the money that [NREL] got from the Department of Energy to build all this — how much of that actually went back to research and development?" Lori asks, her voice rising above the traffic. "That's been bugging the heck out of me. Their real purpose is supposed to be finding renewable energy sources, right?"

******

On May 3, 1978, President Jimmy Carter came to Golden to dedicate a future federal facility. He started his speech with a joke.

"As a matter of fact, we've not yet made a final decision about where to put the National Solar Energy Research Institute. I'm going around to visit several prospective sites to see where the sun is actually shining," the president said, prompting laughter from the audience.

"The wind's blowing," a bystander interjected.

"That's right. The wind is blowing," the president responded. "So that's enough. You qualify."

And wind wasn't Colorado's only resource. "I am glad to be here where the sun shines 300 days a year," Carter said as he stood at the future home of SERI, the country's first national laboratory dedicated to solar energy research.

In fact, Carter had announced in March 1977 that the lab would be located in Colorado. In addition to its attractive environment, the state had a governor who was pushing hard for the project, for which nine or ten states were competing. Governor Dick Lamm made winning the lab a top priority of his administration: He assigned a full-time staff member in his office to the effort, made at least two trips to D.C. to tout Colorado, and included a letter in the state's official proposal, submitted in July 1976. "It was a big deal to me," Lamm says today. "It really [showed] that we could put together an economic-development thrust that was first-rate."

Not only would the national lab bring business to the state, but it was for a cause he supported. "I've been convinced since the '60s that it was foolish to rely on foreign oil," Lamm says. "I really was very passionate about alternative energies."

The lab's launch was an important step in the Carter administration's energy plan — and a symbol of the nation's commitment to reducing the country's dependence on fossil fuels. The lab would work with four regional centers around the country to carry out basic research and development and to demonstrate projects in advanced solar technology. "America's hope for energy to sustain economic growth beyond the year 2000 rests in large measure on the development of renewable and essentially inexhaustible sources of energy," Carter said during his dedication speech (which is available through the American Presidency Project). "No matter how good a job of conservation we do, the world's supply of oil and gas will dwindle, become more expensive, and finally run out."

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23 comments
laurajose2
laurajose2

Cry me a river,  the world changes, get over it.   If you don't like living there any longer,  move. 

idellagarza
idellagarza

I experienced using recs calculator and it was a cool way to learn more about the importance of renewable energy. Companies like them should be supported by us. Let us all admit that we are really having a hard time with the current resources that makes our expenses hurt our pockets.

vinnieu
vinnieu

pixiebabe,

First, I apologize for my earlier lack of empathy toward you, your story and your loss of property to your local governments' exercise of eminent domain. My reaction to the article was largely due to journalistic issues rather than your story. Sadly, our country's beginnings are a result of  "land-grabs" from Native American tribes and continues today supported by  Supreme Court rulings. I strongly support private property ownership rights and deplore seizure of private property through condemnation and EM.  I also strongly support national energy policy that doesn't involve war or polluting our air and water. Unfortunately, as our country's land-space becomes more crowded, these conflicting interests become more commonplace and less palatable.

rwillhite65
rwillhite65

 "I've never heard about anything good coming out of NREL," he says. "I've never heard of any breakthroughs.... I've never heard good PR, and I've lived next door to it all my life.... All I see is they keep taking more and more and building more buildings. The public has a right to know what's going on in there."

 

This person lives within walking distance of NREL, which has a visitor’s center and several open-to-the-public activities every year :-/

vinnieu
vinnieu

No mention in this article of the advancements/contributions toward energy independence in the measurement of public good! How would this person feel if a Wal-Mart was dropped into their neighborhood solely for increased tax revenues. Or drilling for natural gas using fracking?

goldstein
goldstein

Salazar, Obama, Carter, Lamm, Baker, Kroposki:  Statist experts on bribing people with their own money. Residual value in a Federal technology investment is of course never measured in dollars or true innovation for that matter. It is only measured in altruistic intent. They simply buy stuff with your money (jobs, roads, buildings, lab equipment, votes) then measure economic output in terms of how much of your money was spent in your neighborhood. NREL is simply a testament to how well your political leaders and their bureaucrat appointees are extorting you. Those of you touting the virtues of governmental intervention in "clean" technology either work at NREL or can't calculate ROI.

vinnieu
vinnieu

I thought this article would list some of the valuable contributions/advancements NREL has made to renewable energy.  As I  write this, I'm in the early stages of installing solar. This would probably not be possible without the work of NREL!  Lets don't put energy independence on hold cuz somebody doesn't feel secure with NREL's location.  Would they feel better if a coal-fired electrical generation plant landed in their backyard?

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

I'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's full name. If you're interested, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

SnarkyBark
SnarkyBark

This article SERIOUSLY underplays the use and abuse of eminent domain.

 

Are people aware that in Kelo v City of New London,  the US Supreme Court rubber stamped the growing trend of governments (from municipal to Federal) to use eminent domain to take property from private individuals to give to other private entities?  So it isn’t just that the govt needs to build a highway and your land is in the middle of it.  If a private entity wants to build a development, and your land is part of the intended site, a govt can use EM to force the sale of your land that will be transferred to another private entity. 

 

Gone are the days when you heard stories about some widow having a skyscraper built around her house b/c she refused to sell to a developer.  Now, the govt will just force you to sell under EM.  That govt entity will receive far more tax revenue, jobs growth, etc from having that development rather than you retaining your property.  And the US Supreme Court has said this is ok. 

 

Don’t believe that the existing statutes (in CO anyway) that purport to limit this type of EM use actually do that.  This has happened over and over again.  The interpretations of “public use” are jokes.  And the CO Supreme Court has gone right along with the USSC.

 

The long and short of the Kelo ruling is that you don’t really own your property.  Any  government entity can come in and force its sale for the most tenuous of reasons.  And consider that Kelo (2005) and a great deal of legislation around the country designed to limit this abuse of EM (not just in CO) was enacted prior to the economic collapse.  You had better believe jurisdictions are more motivated to increase revenue and by any means necessary.

 

All these people around NREL had better prepare for the possibility of losing their land altogether if NREL has further expansion in the future.

traven37
traven37

Honestly, I question Westword's motives with this article.  Especially which quotes they wanted in this article versus those they didn't.  What do I mean?  They specifically tried to grab the hearts of people by getting the "HEARTWRENCHING" stories of the families who lost a little land (which has been vacant / full of weeds and unused for the past 2 years)  And saying "I've never seen or heard anything good coming from NREL..." That is a joke right?

 

How about NREL's 27 Research & Development top 100 awards over the past 12 years?  Where is that mentioned?  Do you wonder why your air coniditioning or heating has gotten better in the last 2 decades?  What about water energy, electric and hybrid vehicles, eletric and hybrid commercial trucks, solar, biofuels (NREL developed one of the catalysts that made E-85 possible on an economic scale), etc. You should know that NREL has something to do with that... What about those things?  Where is NREL mentioned for the real good it has been doing by producing clean energy?  If you expand a laboratory by 1500 employees in the matter of a decade - you HAVE to expand. New buildings need to be established to house those employees, and that serves as a great opportunity to show the world that you can build green!

 

One point of entry and exit is not acceptable for an organization of that nature - in fact it isn't safe.  2,000+ employees is the same as a multinational corporation!  You have to provide proper access and exits for those employees. 

 

Think of it like this: If there was a major accident that blocked the entry/exit onto the campus and firetrucks and ambulances couldn't get to another accident further in the campus wouldn't that be a problem?  -Yes... it'd be a problem.  Maybe that is why city planners work hard to make it possible for multiple ways to detour aroudn things in the event of a problem...

 

As a person who has seen this new road (of which they provide no photos), it isn't like they stole a portion of their lives.  The land was unused and this made very little impact other than a possible property value decrease due to light traffic.  The reason they didn't provide photos was probably because they wanted the words to paint a picture worse than a photo of the realism would've provided.  Its a road people.  Two lanes and 1/4 a mile long, nothing more - nothing less.  And what NREL does completely overshadows a little bit of unused land being seized to better the access and exit abilities of the thosands that work at this facility.

 

One more note before I get off my grandstand should be this: The economic benefit of NREL is outstanding in this state, as read in the article.  It provides nearly 800 million in economic benefit to the state.  If this country is all about jobs and getting the economy back on track, well then i'd silence a little bit of the rhetoric that their broken hearts overshadow the nature of NREL's mission.

 

--JJ - Former NREL employee.

DrAbraxas
DrAbraxas

i don't see what the problem with the road is. a much bigger problem, i imagine, is the county jail that's just 1/4 of a mile to the east of the road.

mary_spencer
mary_spencer

Where is the mention in the article about the PUBLIC ELEMENTARY school affected by this road? I could see taking property for some vital need but not to provide drivers a more convenient way to get to work. What about using the road up next to the park that already had access to roads that connect to Old Golden Road? Are people unable to follow simple directions to find a place? Oh wait, wasn't there some special Frog that would be endangered if they went that route? I am obviously too disgusted by this to process yet. 

maikohiga2
maikohiga2

Sounds like the woman has Ophthalmophobia – fear of being stared at and Scopophobia – fear of being looked at or stared at.

 

NO ONE is staring at you lady!

 

Next time, how about we vote the right people IN to office, all the way from City Counsel all the way to the freaking White House because the ones we have in the county obviously don't care- but this wouldn't have happened without the renewable energy act.  

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

The agreement was not met at all! The construction ventured far off of the land they stole and crept on private property leaving a house without the ability to even wash a load of laundry. I am excited to have a surplus of renewable energy but at what cost? At the cost of NRELs biggest supporters. Does this make any sense?

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

@vinnieu I guess walmart would have the same argument that it would increase jobs and bring money into the city...still illegal to claim eminate domain

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

@vinnieu I think more of the point is that these people worked all their lives to secure a place for their family. I'm sure there were sacrifices and plenty of overtime involved in this process and after everything is said and done your neighbor sends you documents the day before Christmas and demands your property. And yes that's exactly what happened. I would much rather buy solar for my house with my hard work rather than hand everything over because someone told me so.

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

@SnarkyBark thank you! You really understand the importance of this article.

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

@traven37 it wasn't vacant weed filled land. It was a massive garage that my father built. It was the family business that brought us so close together. It was the pasture where we fed the horses. It was a peaceful place where we could detatch ourselves from the corrupt world around us. I love what NREL has to offer but I hate the way they took everything and called it nothing. You have no right to say that our family wasn't effected. No picture would have ever been able to capture the serenity of our home.

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

@brax.qlipp the problem with the road is the way that it was taken. Eminent domain was used against the people and families affected. This is currently a private road to NREL not a public road. The only way its considered public is if they open it to the park. That is still not done.

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

@maikohiga2 they are staring. I have seen many cars nearly drive straight off the road. Not to mention the bicyclists tresspassing on clearly marked property. It sounds like you have a fear of being compassionate to a stranger.

mary_spencer
mary_spencer

 @maikohiga2 They probably are staring at her because she sits next to a beautiful water fall!

 

NWDen
NWDen

 @pixiebabe2 The way it is described in the article, it made it seem to me that maybe a lot of details and particulars were not specifically addressed in the contract.  Ambiguities can wreak havoc in contracting as both sides may interpret general clauses and terms differently.  Hence DOE claiming they complied with all terms of the contract.  If the contract was badly written and lacking in specifics, then DOE might technically be telling the truth.

 

But the only way to get DOE to comply with the terms of the contract, or have a court determine the intent of the contract, would be to take it to court.  Which I have no doubt would cost the family a great deal.  Unless the family is willing to go to the mat on this, they are probably screwed.  I don't know if the family had a lawyer the last go 'round, but if they did, they probably need a better one.  If they didn't use one with the contract, they should at least contact one to see what are their options.  Sad but true.

pixiebabe2
pixiebabe2

@NWDen our family had a great lawyer and he did everything he could for is. We thought that our own personal property would be returned to its place after the construction. I guess that is something that needs to be in writting. Although what was in writting was bent around to better the construction company. We had no rights and we lost all say. The company had easements but somehow were always past the limits and that's how we ended up with a broken leachfield. To cover theirselves they are hiring a company my family has worked with for years to replace the leachfield but it has been several months still. The road has increased the flood plane and leaves us stuck. We just got our permit the other day but now the field is going right where we wanted to build a new garage (because the original one my dad built was destroyed in the process). The construction company knew they were in the wrong and tried to make a peace offering of a bottle of wine. I don't think wine justifies breaking the law. Not to mention the fact that our family is in recovery from alcoholism. Thanks for getting to know us NREL!

 
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