Budget Cuts Force Layoffs at DOE’s NREL

Just a week after President George W. Bush proclaimed his support for renewable energy technologies, the nation’s premier renewable energy laboratory has been forced to announce layoffs because the Bush Administration’s proposed budget doesn’t adequately fund the laboratory’s current staff.

Citing a $28 million budget shortfall, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reduced its staff by 32 people this week. Research programs affected by the layoffs include biomass, hydrogen and basic research. In a related story published last week (“President’s Energy Initiative Falls Short”), RenewableEnergyAccess.com reported widespread sentiment among industry watchers that the President’s energy plan announced in the State of the Union speech said one thing but did another, lauding renewables while cutting the very budget items that support it, as in the slashing of funds for the DOE to support its National Energy Renewable Laboratory. Another factor that exacerbated the budget situation for NREL is the vast amount of Congressionally directed projects, or earmarks, which reduced the budget available to the Department of Energy for funding renewable energy and energy efficiency research at the Laboratory, leaving $28 million less in operating funds for NREL for fiscal year 2006. The Laboratory made substantial cuts in other areas, including travel, outside contracts and other operating expenses, before reducing staff. Of the 32, eight were research staff and 24 worked in support positions. Regular staff (27) affected by the layoffs will remain on payroll through Feb. 10 and will receive severance pay and job search help. NREL Director Dan Arvizu, in a message to staff, said, “I appreciate how you have all responded to the challenges placed before us. NREL should now focus on the new opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”
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