Sunday, February 24, 2013
GOLDEN, Colo. – The federal government’s dream of a renewable energy empire hinges on a scrubby outpost here, where scientists and executives doggedly explore a
If you live outside Colorado, you probably haven’t heard of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory – NREL for short. It’s the place where solar panels, windmills and corn are deemed the energy source of the future and companies who support such endeavors are courted.
It’s also the place where highly paid staff decide how to spend hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.
And the public pays those decision-makers well: NREL’s top executive, Dr. Dan Arvizu, makes close to a million dollars per year. His two top lieutenants rake in more than half a million each and nine others make more than $350,000 a year.
But what is really going on there? Energy expert Amy Oliver Cooke drove out to the site, which looks something like Nevada’s Area 51 with its remote location and forbidding concrete buildings. NREL had started a construction project and Cooke wanted to see for herself. She didn’t get far: a man in an SUV seemingly appeared out of nowhere, stopped her car, and told her to leave.
“A beefy looking fellow told me, ‘It’s top secret,’ said Cooke, director of the Energy Policy Center at theIndependence Institute think tank. “I said, ‘I’m a taxpayer and I want to see what you’re building’ and he said it was it was ‘top secret so we can bring Americans a better future.’”