Top energy official praises Colorado-based federal lab |

Top energy official praises Colorado-based federal lab

DENVER (AP) ” The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is setting the national agenda for clean technology research and development, a top federal energy official said Wednesday.

Paul Dickerson, chief operating officer for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said energy ” how it’s obtained, consumed and paid for ” is one of the most crucial issues facing the country. He said his office invests most heavily in and works closely with NREL in the Denver suburb of Golden because it is a leader.

“I like to describe NREL as our NASA for renewables,” Dickerson told the crowd on the second day of the lab’s 20th Industry Growth Forum.

The event, scheduled through Thursday at a downtown Denver hotel, brings together investors, renewable and clean technology companies and government officials. About 450 participants signed up for the forum, held for the first time in Denver.

Companies that attended the past five forums have raised a total of $1.2 billion in venture capital, according to L. Marty Murphy, the forum’s chairman and NREL’s manager of enterprise development.

Dickerson said investment is growing in research and development in sustainable energy technology, reaching $71 billion last year, and the federal government is busy working to transfer the results of research to the market.

The Bush administration, Dickerson said, is also crafting long-term, predictable policies intended for clean technologies rather than incentives that typically have expired every two years. He added that President Bush’s initiatives to increase generation of solar power and cut gas use by 20 percent in 10 years are helping boost renewable and clean energy industry.

NREL spokesman George Douglas said the lab has added 100 employees in the past year and expects to add more in part because of the research for those initiatives.

But Cody Wertz, a spokesman for Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said Congress and the states have bolstered renewable energy ” not the Bush administration.

“The administration has been no friend of NREL,” Wertz said.

Last year, 32 workers were laid off at NREL because of a $28 million shortfall, then reinstated just days before Bush visited the lab to promote his energy proposals. Bush blamed the layoffs on a budgeting mix-up, acknowledging that Washington was sending “mixed signals.”

Wertz also noted that Bush has indicated he might veto energy bills passed by the House and Senate that increase taxes on oil companies and provide tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy and conservation.

“Their rhetoric does not match their deeds,” Wertz said.

Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who with other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation fought to restore the federal lab’s funding, credited Gov. Bill Ritter for helping make Colorado a leader in renewable energy.

Ritter, a Democrat who took office in January, appointed a climate change adviser and released a plan Monday to fight global warming. He supported a new law requiring large utilities to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from the 10 percent by 2015 mandated by Colorado voters in 2004.

“We can be proud that Colorado’s governor is demonstrating leadership on these issues,” Udall said, “and I am confident that we will be able to work together to ensure that Colorado’s contribution to climate science, research and clean energy strategies inspires the rest of the country.”

Dickerson of the Energy Department said that state laws and regulations requiring utilities to get more of their power from renewable sources have helped spur investment in the clean technology industry. He called Colorado a model.

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