"I told them to get the hell out of here," the now-24-year-old remembers. "They had no business being there, and it was the first I'd ever heard of it."

His mother, Lori, called the county, but had trouble even finding out who would be paying for the road. "I'm spitting mad. What do you mean they're putting a road through here?" she remembers telling a Jeffco official, who eventually admitted that the money would come from the DOE and that the project was for NREL.

But under eminent domain, the family ultimately didn't have a choice. And with NREL's construction and expansion already under way, there was pressure not to drag out the process. In fact, court documents from the Maloney family's fight reveal that one of Jefferson County's arguments for "immediate possession" was "to accommodate the NREL expansion and to prevent construction delays."

The family says that the road's construction left lingering problems, including a paved-over leach field that damaged the house's water-drainage system, and missing fences that leave them exposed to trespassers. (The DOE says it has complied with every aspect of the contract the two parties agreed to.) "It was really hard to go through. It's still pretty hard," says Heather Versailles, the 25-year-old daughter of Lori and Paul Maloney, who has a three-year-old son. "I will never be able to offer my son what I thought he could have here. All just because of a freakin' road."

******

To understand why the National Renewable Energy Lab's new road is so important to the Department of Energy, you need to follow that road to the dusty, noisy and massive construction site on South Table Mountain, the future home of a lab that is supposed to propel the world into a cleaner, more energy-efficient economy. The Energy Systems Integration Facility, or ESIF, will be the place were NREL and, by extension, the U.S. government, test out large-scale technologies that could impact whole utility systems.

"For thirty years, we've been developing technologies at some small scale to get them cost-effective and commercially available," says Benjamin Kroposki, NREL's director of energy systems integration, sitting inside a small shack on the ESIF construction site. "The key is really to take it from that step and to make it relevant in the energy system.... [Given] what it really takes [to provide homes with electricity] and what the size of power plants really are, you need a facility of this size to get to that level to make an impact."

When it's completed, the 182,500-square-foot-facility will house around 200 scientists and engineers in fifteen fully outfitted laboratories and several outdoor test areas. The work at ESIF will be as expansive as the building itself, ranging from research on renewable-energy integration to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Researchers and industry partners will come into this lab and do testing at megawatt scales to explore how different innovations could work in a real-life system. These kinds of capabilities reduce risks to companies and are key when businesses are looking at commercializing products. "You can't just have a cheap solar cell," Kroposki explains. "You have to show how it's going to integrate into the bigger picture and how it integrates with the power system as a whole. That's what this facility will really allow us to do."

In other words, if utilities like Xcel Energy can see these technologies demonstrated in a realistic environment inside NREL, they will be encouraged to implement them, resulting in large-scale impacts in savings and increased efficiencies.

And there's a lot of waste in existing utility systems, says Jeff Baker, the DOE's director of laboratory operations in the Golden field office. So improving these systems could constitute a "public good," if you will. "If you help a utility company operate a system more efficiently, those efficiencies are passed along to you," Baker points out.

The total cost of this particular effort is $135 million in congressionally approved funds. And ESIF is just one piece of NREL's recent expansions. "The bottom line is that what's done here today is going to change the world for the better, and our contribution is immensely satisfying," says Baker. "We are incredibly privileged to work at this place and be entrusted with the nation's resources."

******

Government agencies generally try to avoid using eminent domain. It can be a lengthy, expensive process that often ends in bitter legal battles — and bad PR.

But for roadway projects, eminent domain is fairly standard practice. And by some measures, the property fights tied to NREL's new entranceway were relatively mild. No one had to move out of their home or business, as has been the case with some of the more famous David-and-Goliath-like stories of eminent domain across the country.

There is, however, one aspect of this case that stands out.

Jefferson County took on the project on behalf of the DOE and NREL, in a partnership that's very atypical. And the relationship alone raises concerns about what "public good" legally justified the taking.

"The power of eminent domain is one of the great...weapons that the government has. It should be used sparingly," says attorney Dennis Polk, who represented the Maloney family when they attempted to fight Jefferson County. "This one is as close to the line as it could possibly be without completely abdicating the rights of private individuals."

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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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