Your Idea Sucks -- Here's Your Money

Having read this:

In his proposed budget for 2010, Chu wanted $480 million to start eight Energy Innovation Hubs, or "Bell Lablets," as he called them, to stimulate research in areas ranging from solar energy to new materials for the electric grid. Each would receive $35 million to get started, and $25 million more in each of the following 4 years.

Last week Congress poured semi-cold water on the idea....Its skepticism was no surprise, having been included this summer in reports accompanying the spending bills in the House of Representatives and Senate (House, Senate versions). In August, Science reporter Jeffrey Mervis described how Chu admitted to a mediocre job of selling the idea and overcoming congressional concerns that the concept was poorly thought out and not well-coordinated with other energy research at the Department of Energy. House appropriators were particularly unkind to the idea, noting:

A new set of centers with overlapping research goals risks adding confusion and redundancy to the existing fleet of research and development initiatives

So since everyone agreed it was a bad idea, they killed it right? Ha ha, cute idea, actually voting and spending money based on efficacy. In fact, they gave Chu quite a bit

Conferees to the Energy and Water spending bill approved funding for three of the centers, two in energy efficiency and renewable energy and one in nuclear energy.

If they really make no sense, how about "zero"


  1. Patrick M:

    More like ... "bad idea, can you build it in my district so I can take credit for it?"
    Honestly, his mistake was not to create 435 bell-lablets.

  2. DrTorch:

    Let's see, we've had DOE labs for decades. In the last decade alone, the annual DOE budget has been $20-25 BILLION.

    That's over $200B spent. And the results are...

    Cut out the nuclear weapons portion of that, you're still at $4B over 10 years.

    I'm thinking that's enough to buy 200,000 hybrid vehicles.

  3. MJ:

    Welcome to the sausage factory, Mr. Chu.

  4. K:

    Offhand this seems like an immensely bad idea. The DOE already runs a couple of dozen national laboratories which actively seek to expand into any energy field where funding might be or become available.

    If new appropriations for kite flying research you can bet one or more national labs will find kite flying research a fascinating new field to enter. That is just the way it works. All those labs want to survive and each has Representatives and Senators prepared to keep that money coming to their state and district. Those people are the natural enemy of any new labs not to be located in their baliwick.

    The DOE also funds and oversees many, many programs at companies and universities. It isn't as if renewable energy is something new and mysterious that suddenly needs major new funding.

    And the eight lablets idea sounds doubly puzzling because DOE already has the NREL, National Renewable Energies Laboratory, tasked to renewable energies. Headquarters in Golden CO.

    IMO the sums mentioned, $35M and $25m/year, won't start any worthwhile new laboratory, lablet or not. It just isn't enough, I used to do that sort of budgeting.

    I see one advantage in starting several, such as three, at once; the bureau overhead in D.C. will cost about the same for three as for one. But even less for zero.

  5. tomw:

    Synfuels, any one?

  6. rxc:

    As someone whowas once a "customer" of some of the DOE labs, I can say that we absolutely don't need any more of them. The ones that we have spend entirely too much of their time trying to justify their existence without producing good products. They re-sell stuff that they invented decades ago to unaware/naive customers, and they are WAYYY overpriced because they have to include cleanup costs from the nuclear weapons work in their overhead.

    The labs did good work till about 30 years ago, when we decided that the "godforsaken wastelands" where they were originally sited, were actually "fragile ecosystems" that now need to be restored and remediated, so that we can no longer perform any "interesting" nuclear experiments. All the current labs have been elbowing one-another in an attempt to get in on the nuclear renaissance, and one more will just make the fight nastier and more efficient.

    I think this is just an attempt to grease some political palms by establishing a new money-sink somewhere.