Saturday, June 18, 2011

Keep Pulling the Plug, Doug

It's a shame that U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is backpedaling on his support for federal funding cuts that could have led to staff reductions at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. He's obviously caving-in to political pressure from others in the Colorado congressional delegation, who like to crow about all the techno-wizardry the lab supposedly cranks out but really only care about the federal revenues and jobs it keeps in state.

Lamborn was right the first time on NREL, even if he was right by mistake. It's time to pull the plug on the lab. It lab has been sucking on the taxpayer teat since 1974, with precious little to show for it in terms of renewable energy breakthroughs, and all it's really good for is keeping a lot of federal technocrats employed in Colorado. NREL has been studying solar and wind power breakthroughs since I was in junior high school, yet neither technology even today can compete with conventional energy sources -- which is why solar and wind must rely on taxpayer subsidies and government mandates to increase their meager market share.

NREL has failed, in other words, if one looks objectively at the results. If what the lab produces is so damn valuable, it ought to be able to support itself on the royalties it receives from technology transfer deals with private companies. But the lab received only $1 million in royalty returns last year, reports the Denver Post, while "investing" $350 million of your tax dollars in research. That's not just a lousy return on investment, it's corporate welfare of the worst kind.

Wind and solar power were held-up as our energy portfolio saviors way back in the mid-1970s, two or three energy crises ago, yet the same windy and sunny promises are being repeated 35 years later -- showing how little real progress the wizards inside NREL have made. Doug's original push to pull the plug on NREL was completely justified, even he's backing away now and calling it a mistake.

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