Zoe Schacht

(Colorado Newsline) U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm during a Monday visit to Colorado announced a $150 million investment in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis and NREL director Martin Keller also participated in the announcement, which took place at the NREL campus in Golden.

Granholm said that the investment helps make the U.S. a leader in renewable energy and future innovations. She highlighted Colorado’s contribution to this, saying Hickenlooper has been “one of President (Joe) Biden’s strongest allies” in the administration’s effort to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2050. Granholm also said Polis has been aligned with Biden’s agenda, orienting Colorado’s clean energy efforts to federal policy.

“It is so exciting to have the power of both the state and the federal government working together on these big goals,” Granholm said.

The new NREL funds come from the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate change, health care and tax package Biden signed last year. The money will go toward additions and improvements at NREL’s Golden campus and a second campus near Boulder, according to a press release.

“Thanks to the historic IRA, we will be able to make vital upgrades to lab infrastructure and enable clean energy research and development that is imperative to addressing the climate crisis,” Keller said in a statement.

Earlier in the morning, Polis signed three bills to accelerate Colorado’s clean energy transition: Senate Bill 23-285 renames the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to the Energy and Carbon Management Commission and directs the commission to regulate energy and carbon management areas beyond oil and gas; House Bill 23-1281 sets standards for the production of hydrogen energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption; and House Bill 23-1210 directs the Colorado Energy Office to develop a carbon management roadmap and help Colorado companies successfully undertake carbon management projects.

“We’re very proud of Colorado, of our forward-thinking (and) innovative work,” Polis said during his appearance with Granholm. “The bills that I just signed are really setting up Colorado for that future infrastructure for looking for underground activities related to energy.”

Despite recent resistance from U.S. House Republicans around raising the nation’s debt limit, Granholm said she is confident there will be a bipartisan effort to address budgetary issues and the future of transmission energy. Tax incentives embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act resulted in 160 battery companies moving to the U.S., according to Granholm, who added that these companies are not moving exclusively to blue states but also those led by Republicans.

“It would cut our competitiveness as a nation, cut our ability to have a manufacturing backbone as a nation if we were to pull up what is now making the United States the irresistible nation for investing in clean energy technologies,” Granholm said. “I hope that rational minds will see that.”

NREL collaborated with First Solar, which started as Solar Cells Inc. three decades ago, and the partnership led to the production of cheaper and more efficient materials, Granholm said. Now, First Solar is investing $4 million in the U.S. solar supply chain, creating thousands of jobs.

“That’s what we can expect more of in the years to come,” Granholm said.

With the new federal investment, NREL will continue further collaboration with startups and private companies like First Solar through the South Table Mountain Energy Park and the new Research and Innovation Laboratory, or RAIL. It will also attempt to combat complex and urgent energy issues through the Global Energy Park, which is still in its planning stages.

During her visit, Granholm dedicated RAIL which will provide multipurpose lab space for research involving chemistry, materials science, bioscience and engineering in support of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

NREL is prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion, according to Brian Holland, director of business development for construction company Mortenson, which played a role in the RAIL project. About 75% of management staff for the RAIL project were women, Holland said.

Hickenlooper and Keller both said creating further diversity in STEM is vital for future innovations. According to Keller, the First Solar investment will enable collaboration with universities in Colorado, such as the School of Mines, but also community colleges, to make workforce training accessible at various levels.

“That’s the other thing that I love about this project,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s about innovation. It’s also about equity and making sure that we’re getting every young, curious mind.”

While fossil fuel production will continue in the state, Polis said he is excited for the future of Colorado’s energy and its partnership with Granholm.

NREL is the Department of Energy’s main laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. It is operated by the contractor Alliance for Sustainable Energy.

Granholm was scheduled to travel on to Arizona and Idaho to further promote the Biden administration’s clean energy investments.