Study tallies NREL’s benefit to economy

GOLDEN – The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s net economic benefit to Colorado was $814.8 million in 2012, according to a new study.

Golden-based NREL is the largest federal lab in the state, supporting about 2,300 jobs in 2012, according to the new study, which was done by the business research division at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

NREL jobs generated $403.4 million in wage impacts in 2012, making the lab one of the largest employers in Jefferson County, according to the study.

While budgets vary from year to year, Boulder also is home to some of the largest federal labs in the state by number of employees, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, each with around 1,000 employees.

All federal labs in Colorado had $1.5 billion in net economic benefit to the state in a two-year-old study being updated in May, said Brian Lewandowski, a research associate in the business research division at Leeds who was involved in both studies.

“It’s important to realize these are in our backyard, because they do have substantial economic impacts on the state,” Lewandowski said of the area’s federal labs.

Capital expenditures at NREL in fiscal year 2012 – including an expansion at the South Table Mountain campus in Golden that will wrap up this year – contributed to the economic impact estimate, according to the study. In addition, local purchasing practices may have positively affected the economic impact number, Lewandowski said.
NREL completed a 1,800-car-parking garage with solar panels on its roof in fiscal year 2012, the study said. Regional construction companies did the work. Also completed was a new energy systems building, where utility companies and others can test the effect of increased renewable energy on the national electric grid. In all, construction expenditures were $113 million in fiscal year 2012, a 7.4 percent increase from the same period the year before, according to the study.

However, NREL’s statistics got smaller in 2012 than they were in 2011 – mainly because of federal budget pressures, Lewandowski said. The lab spent fewer dollars on renting office buildings in 2012 as it consolidated operations on its main campus, according to the study.

NREL focuses on renewable-energy and energy-efficiency research and development for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC nonprofit group operates the lab. The nonprofit group commissioned the economic-impact study from CU. The alliance is made up of Battelle, a nonprofit business services group based in Columbus, Ohio, and MRIGlobal, a nonprofit group based in Kansas City, Missouri.

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