Stimulus Leaves NREL in Cold
April 17, 2009
President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package includes big spending on renewable-energy and energy-efficiency programs and will boost the U.S. Department of Energy’s office in Golden.
The office ” which promotes energy research by universities and companies ” is expecting its budget to double to more than $1 billion in fiscal 2009, according to DOE spokesman Chris Powers. It plans to hire 100 workers this year.
But the stimulus plan, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, could restrict money flowing to the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Powers said. NREL is owned by the DOE and managed by private contractors.
“The nature of the type of work required under the act dictates how the DOE must spend the money,” he said, “and the vast majority of energy-efficiency and renewable-energy funding is geared toward programs in which NREL does not play a role.”
But Powers said NREL could receive some stimulus funds as “the DOE works out the details of implementing its research-and-development mission.”
The DOE estimates NREL’s budget at $316 million in fiscal 2009 ” lower than the $328.3 million in fiscal 2008 and $378.4 million in fiscal 2007. But NREL’s budget this year could increase if it receives more money for construction of research facilities, Powers said.
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“This is a snapshot in time that doesn’t look at the overall funding of the lab,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo. “NREL will be assisting the DOE in evaluating the stimulus grant proposals, and they will also be part of the groups requesting grants.”
NREL could compete for some stimulus grants through partnerships with companies, Powers said. But he said he did not expect a great deal of money to go to the lab in that manner.
NREL spokesman George Douglas said he expects NREL to compete for grant money in programs where it has expertise.
“It’s premature to say whether NREL is not going to get any money from the stimulus, because we don’t know,” he said.
NREL is on track to hire 150 to 200 employees this year, Douglas said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he will fight to ensure that NREL’s budget is appropriate to its mission of helping to develop cutting-edge renewable-energy technology.
That NREL is not benefiting much from the stimulus’ billions of dollars for renewable-energy and energy-efficiency programs is “discouraging,” said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
“We had anticipated NREL getting money through the stimulus package directly and being a formidable competitor for discretionary funding in partnership with private companies,” Clark said.
NREL has a history of budget fluctuations in past years.
For instance, in February 2006, NREL’s budget stood at $174 million, which forced the lab to lay off 32 employees. The DOE gave the lab $5 million two days before President George W. Bush visited that month to help reinstate the employees, although eight laid-off scientists chose not to return. Later that year, NREL got funds from the DOE.
In summer 2007, NREL received $100 million after Congress approved a measure to increase the DOE’s funds by $500 million. The midyear cash infusion ” the biggest in its history ” boosted its budget to $378.4 million.