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Some Say NREL Job Cuts A Bad Sign For Green Energy Industry

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NREL (credit: CBS)

NREL (credit: CBS)

GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – The flagship laboratory for alternative energy in Colorado is trimming its workforce. Critics say it’s a sign of things to come for the green energy industry.

The National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden says it’s cutting jobs through voluntary buyouts. It expects about 150 employees, or 10 percent of the workforce, to take advantage of the buyouts.

The implications for the green energy industry are still unclear. But when a lab that promised to help create jobs is cutting jobs, it can’t be a good sign.

NREL says the job cuts are the product of budget realities.

“We look out on the horizon and do not see a scenario that would enable the lab to avoid significant cuts in the future,” Communication Director Bob Noun with NREL said.

Noun said 98 percent of the lab’s funding comes from the federal government, including nearly $300 million in stimulus in 2009. It was money that was meant to create jobs.

“You have the desire to create green jobs but all we’re creating is pink slips and red ink,” Michael Sandoval with the Independence Institute said.

Sandoval questions if the government is getting a good return on its investment. He pointed out government studies showing that Colorado lost 30,000 green energy jobs, even as NREL’s budget grew by 60 percent.

“When it comes at taxpayer expense, we’re very concerned about that,” Sandoval said.

Noun defends the lab, saying its mission isn’t job creation.

“Our role here is to create technology, hand it off to industries so they can create jobs and grow,” Noun said.

Noun insists the green energy industry is healthy despite the cuts at NREL and headlines like Solyndra, a California solar company that went bankrupt last month after receiving $500 million in tax subsidies.

“You look beyond companies that have been in the news lately and you’ll find a very strong and growing solar energy industry in the country and even here in Colorado,” Noun said.

NREL cited a University of Colorado study last year showing green energy’s presence in Colorado has meant a $700 million annual boost to the state’s economy.

NREL is still figuring out how much it will save with the job cuts and didn’t rule out another round in the future.

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