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To their left is a new parking garage, one designed to receive sunlight and dramatically minimize energy use.

That parking garage is part of what NREL got with the $156.1 million it collected through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The rest of the stimulus funds went to support the expansion of a new "Research Support Facility," a buildout and upgrade of an "Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility," the construction of new technology at NREL's wind center near Boulder...and construction of the new access road.

The total cost of that new road was $6.31 million, which includes all infrastructure costs as well as the new roundabout on South Golden Road.

But this latest round is just a small piece of the facility's financial history. "Lots of the nation's investments actually come flowing through here...and that makes NREL the central point...for all of these technologies," explains Baker, the DOE's director of laboratory operations in Golden, as he shows off the new Research Support Facility.

The RSF, as the building is known, is a groundbreaking structure that the NREL team calls a "net zero energy building": It uses 50 percent less energy than current commercial codes with a wide range of strategies, including solar collectors, day lighting in office spaces, and under-floor ventilation. In the cafeteria, the countertops are made of recycled sunflower seeds; large repurposed natural-gas pipes are integrated into its structure. The RSF shows just what is possible using the best energy-conservation practices, many of which were developed on this very campus.

Since the lab's founding in 1977, Baker estimates, NREL has taken in roughly eight to nine billion dollars (in today's dollars). That's a lot of money, but you need to consider it in the context of energy spending, he suggests: Nine percent of the nation's gross domestic product, or $1.4 trillion a year, is associated with energy. Compared to that figure, the investment in NREL doesn't seem so huge. About 80 percent of NREL's direct funding comes from the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the other 20 percent comes from other DOE sources and outside sources.

What has the country gotten for its money?

The basic progress that NREL has made in renewable technology is the most direct and visible indication that the nation and the world is getting an enormous return on this investment, Baker says. From NREL's perspective, the lab's renewable-energy discoveries have dramatically shaped our transportation alternatives and directly provided new options to power homes and businesses.

The cost of wind energy, for example, has declined from 40 cents per kilowatt-hour when the lab was founded to between 6 and 9 cents today, helping wind energy become the fastest-growing source of new electricity in the nation. And the cost of electricity from photovoltaic panels — which convert sunlight directly into electricity — has dropped from several dollars per kilowatt-hour to 18 to 23 cents per kilowatt-hour.

None of these advancements would have happened at this speed — if they had happened at all — if not for the DOE's investments in the laboratory, Baker says. "Look at the size of the industry today," he continues. "When you see billions and billions of dollars of the renewable energy in photovoltaics and wind, then you come back and say, 'Well, where did all that start?' It started here at NREL. It made all those industries possible."

According to NREL lab director Arvizu, in 1977 the cost of gasoline was 62 cents and the cost of a photovoltaic panel was $100 a watt. Since then, there has been a six-fold increase in gas prices and a 25-fold decrease in the cost of photovoltaic panels. This kind of innovation was made possible by NREL, Arvizu says.

But while NREL has undoubtedly played a huge role in some of the fundamental innovations that have brought solar, wind and other technologies to where they are today, where else might they have gone over the past three decades? Ken Zweibel worked at NREL from 1979 to 2006 and was a director of the thin-film photovoltaics partnership there. "My question is how effective these contributions have been in the sense that [most of] these companies themselves haven't necessarily stuck around and really made an impact," Zweibel says.

If you try measuring the success of the lab by the success of private companies that have attempted to commercialize these technologies, the story of NREL becomes a lot more complicated. In fact, just as NREL was preparing to celebrate its 35th anniversary this summer, Colorado got disappointing news about two of the state's major solar companies. One was going to put on hold a large manufacturing plant it had planned for Aurora; the other would be filing for bankruptcy and shutting its doors for good.

******

On a tour of NREL in 2005, Brian Murphy was impressed by the research. "I was just really awestruck by all the neat things the scientists were doing in the lab," he remembers.

Murphy had previously worked in applied films technology, which he saw as a perfect foundation for getting into the solar-panel market. It was clear that NREL had the expertise he needed to develop this technology. But it was also clear to Murphy that the lab could have a greater impact if it partnered much more closely with the private sector. "'Why isn't this stuff getting out to the world so people can take advantage of it? So society can benefit from all this unique technology and...really leading-edge stuff?'" he recalls thinking. "It was very clear that the scientists were very proud and excited with what they were doing. It was also clear that there didn't seem to be a great link to industry." It would be a win-win for Murphy and NREL if they joined together and worked on commercializing solar panels.

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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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