The first round of job cuts to Department of Energy (DOE) national research laboratories have been announced and they are brutal.
So far, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are not specifically mentioned in multiple reports on the cuts, but it is logical to assume those cuts are coming. After all, Trump’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget has proposed the following cuts to the two labs:
- NREL, would see its overall budget would be slashed 22%, energy-storage research eliminated, and solar energy research cut 22% cut itself.
- Berkeley Lab would absorb an overall 28% budget cut. As with NREL, energy-storage research is eliminated, and solar’s research budget would also sustain a nearly fatal reduction of 54%.
But the initial jobs reductions seem to have spared NREL and Berkeley, focusing instead on Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Multiple reports suggest the cuts could reach as high as 525 positions. Both labs are trying to reduce as many people as possible through voluntary buyout programs, but the directors of the labs say layoffs may need to occur as well.
The two labs focus on nuclear energy research, with Oak Ridge’s history dating back to the Manhattan Project, the secret research program that produced the world’s first nuclear weapons. Brookhaven most notably worked to develop the first peacetime use for nuclear energy, a nuclear reactor. It also developed the first video game, Tennis for Two, in 1958.
Trump’s proposed budget included a 70% cut in funding for renewable energy programs to only $134 million. And while the president is proposing cuts to DOE across the board, he is only proposing a 31% cut to nuclear energy programs and a 54% cut to fossil fuel funding at DOE.
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The national Labs are a burden to the tax payer with questionable returns for the investment and worse, they are in an unfair direct competition with the private sector because they are funded with seemingly unlimited tax payer funds. The only people who benefit from this “government owned corporation operated” model are those in management positions. The labs create intellectual property but instead of giving it to American industry (that IP was paid by tax payers after all) the contractor hired by DOE to run the labs profits unfairly against those true entepreneurs who have “skin on the game” and are not backed by government monies. To make matters worse, the directors of the labs make upwards of a $1,000,000 dollars in take home income, exceedingly more than the POTUS, governors of any state, in fact, more than many real corporations that generate real profit and real jobs. This fact made the news for the inherent waste and abuse it has led to; google “energy lab spawns million dollar govt employee”, where it was exposed that the upper echelon of management in this particular energy lab (NREL) make upwards of $750,000 for chief counsels, deputy directors, etc. . When times get tough, management cuts the “working bees” (researchers, engineers, technitians, support personel) and not a single of their own wasteful managers and thus hindering true scientific and technological advances. The labs could still be run effectively in spite of these necessary cuts to waste and abuse, but only if the “GOCO” model is changed to allow only resonable costs to manage the labs, else, is an unfair money making machine for just a few which works againts tax payers and the private sector. Today, that R&D in renewable energy at national labs would be better off left to the private sector, universities and colleges. Those institutions have reasonable overhead rates and can do business in a cost effective way unlike the national labs where overhead rates exceeding 300% are the norm. Lastly, take a critical look at any recent development in renewable energy (new materials, new world record efficiencies, innovative concepts, etc), they have come not from the national labs but from the R&D in private companies and universities.
Thank you for that interesting comment Miguel. I don’t agree, at all. First off, I find your statements about national lab employees to resemble right-wing conspiracy theories. But more importantly, your statement that the only people who benefit from this research are in management positions I find utterly bizarre. I’ve been covering the work that NREL and LBNL are doing for eight years, and I can say without a doubt that is has been of great service to the entire solar industry.
For a few of NREL’s more important contributions, please see this article: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2017/07/06/nrel-turns-40-amid-questions-about-its-future/
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