A History of Renewable Energy at DOE

As you will have noticed when you logged in, the ‘theme’ (presentation format) of the blog has been changed to make it more interesting and visually attractive. Hopefully you will like the change.

Back to blogging: my next several blogs will focus on renewable energy, starting with a few bits of history that may not be widely known. Some of my fellow ‘dinosaurs’ will know this history, but one purpose of this blog is to share some of this history with the young people now populating the field who may not.

I will start with a memo that I forwarded to DOE Undersecretary Kristina Johnson when she requested information on the history of renewable energy at DOE (History of RE at DOE). She had spoken to a group of Fellows at DOE about her responsibilities and this topic came up in the following discussion. The memo makes reference to the ‘DPR’ and the video of President Carter’s 1979 speech when he dedicated solar water heaters that had been mounted on the White House roof. The DPR is discussed below and copies of the video (DVD) are available upon request.

The DPR (Domestic Policy Review of Solar Energy) was the final report of the first comprehensive review of federal renewable energy policy. It was announced by President Carter on May 3, 1978 when he dedicated SERI (Solar Energy Research Institute) in Golden, CO. It involved 30 federal departments and agencies, and at its peak there were 175 senior officials detailed to the DPR task force. As DOE’s senior representative to the DPR, and just one month after I had joined DOE as a political appointee, I was designated to head the effort by my boss, Al Alm.

The next six months were rather intense, beginning immediately on May 4th when it became urgent to move my temporary DOE office in the Old Post Office Building in downtown DC to the Forrestal Building (DOE Headquarters) without DOE assistance (no trucks or moving staff were available on short notice). One of my then new staff was also with me in the Old PO Building (Ron White, still a dear friend all these years later) and using our own cars we moved our stuff into a large open (and somewhat unpleasant) space on the G-level of Forrestal. In the next few days this space, which we dubbed the ‘bullpen’, was filled with desks to accommodate the anticipated agency detailees, but without dividing walls. Actually, there was one small office in the bullpen, mine, which meant that I saw the mice when they occasionally showed up during the day.

Another problem ‘out of the chute’ was the fact that the other 29 departments and agencies didn’t trust the 30th, DOE, because of some recent history. Shortly before the DPR was announced the Carter Administration had released a National Energy Policy, also a multi-agency effort chaired by DOE. The story I was told by non-DOE staff was that DOE, at the last minute, had pulled out a draft it had prepared on its own and submitted it as the multi-agency report. Not nice! As a result I spent much of the DPR’s first month building relationships with the non-DOE detailees to reestablish trust.

The DPR was completed in early December 1978, and delivered to the Domestic Policy Staff of the White House on December 6th, 1978, a date that those of us intimately involved in putting it together will never forget. For several years after, on the anniversary of this date, several of my staff and I would get together to celebrate the DPR’s completion. The full report, with appendices, was formally published in February 1979 and is available in DOE’s archives – its Executive Summary is attached (DPR-Executive Summary-1979).

What is worth noting is that a 34+ year old report is still somewhat relevant, indicating that the ‘dinosaurs’ did some useful thinking way back when and that U.S. energy policy has not advanced as quickly or as much as we had hoped when the report was completed in 1978.

Cash Fitzpatrick

Hi Allan,
Great job on the website makeover (face-lift?).

It’s always great for us whippersnappers to know where we came from. I’ve said it before but I still can’t get over how that DPR report could be re-released right now and still be mostly relevant. A sobering moment for folks with early careers and high expectations.


Dear whippersnapper,
Pleased,that you like the ‘facelift’.
Re the DPR’s continuing relevance: sobering for us ‘dinosaurs’ as well.

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