President Biden Makes Historic Visit to NREL's Flatirons Campus

Energy Secretary Granholm, Colorado Governor Polis Join the President on Tour of Cutting-Edge Renewable Energy Research

Sept. 15, 2021

A person in a suit and tie standing at a podium with solar panels and mountains in the background
President Joe Biden speaks during a visit the NREL Flatirons Campus in Arvada, Colorado. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

President Joe Biden visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) Flatirons Campus on Tuesday afternoon to speak with NREL leadership and to learn about the laboratory’s research facilities, capabilities, and critical initiatives housed on the Flatirons Campus. During the visit, the president spoke to a livestream audience and attending news media about his plans on infrastructure, environmental justice, and how to tackle the climate crisis.

Since his inauguration in January, the Biden administration has focused on making the United States a global leader in clean energy. NREL has positioned itself as a national leader in cutting-edge, renewable energy research, and Tuesday’s visit was a hand-in-glove stop during the president’s tour of Western states affected by climate change.

Standing at a podium on the Flatirons Campus with a field full of solar panels and wind turbines behind him, and a backdrop of the Front Range framing him, President Biden thanked NREL Director Martin Keller, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, and other political dignitaries for attending his first visit to NREL since his vice-presidential days in 2011. He toured part of the Flatirons Campus before delivering an impassioned message about our climate and the increasing need for renewable energy investment.

“Extreme weather is only going to come more frequently and with more ferocity. We’re blinking code red as a nation,” the president said. “You saw the vicious cycle this summer [in Colorado] when heavy rains combined with the burn scar of the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire. The result was the mudslides that washed out an entire section of Interstate 70, adding hours to people’s drives and cutting off a vital commercial artery. It’s everywhere,” he said.

“We know what the driver is: climate change. We know what’s causing climate change: human activity. This is no longer subject to debate,” the president said. “And, I might add, windmills do not cause cancer.”

Two people speaking in front of an experimental wind turbine blade in a laboratory facility.
President Biden (left) listens as Daniel Laird, center director of the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC), discusses advancements in wind technology in the Structural Technical Laboratory at NREL's Flatirons Campus. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

President Biden said the country needs to look no further than what was surrounding him—an increasing investment into clean energy research and technologies—for the answers. “Something that is caused by humans can be solved by humans,” he said.

He pointed out how NREL is helping lead the charge. “We’ll be making one of those breakthroughs in solar, wind, and storage out of these facilities. [We’ll] out-innovate the rest of the world … drive down the cost of renewable energy. Of course, we have to invest in the future, we need to deploy cutting-edge technologies, and we have to deploy them today, not tomorrow.

“I had a chance today to see wind-turbine testing and new battery technologies. Because of the years of work that have taken place here, these technologies aren’t science fiction. They’re ready to be installed across the country right now,” President Biden said.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who toured NREL in a virtual capacity earlier this summer, accompanied the president to Flatirons, seeing the facility firsthand after her online meeting with NREL leadership and staff on July 15, 2021.

The president lauded the work of Energy Secretary Granholm in his speech, saying, “Were she born in America and not Canada, she’d be standing here as president. She’s doing a heck of a job for me, and for the country. And a proud electric car driver as well.”

Four people walking and talking in front of a wind turbine blade
President Biden (center) walks with NREL Director Martin Keller (right) and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm (second from left) in front of a wind turbine blade during a tour of NREL's Flatirons Campus. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

Joining President Biden and Secretary Granholm was Acting Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Kelly Speakes-Backman, as well as other White House, Department of Energy (DOE), and local elected officials. The Flatirons Campus was closed to staff on Tuesday to accommodate the highly secured visit.

EERE Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Speakes-Backman is scheduled to tour NREL’s South Table Mountain campus on Wednesday.

President Biden became the third U.S. president to visit NREL’s campuses, and this was his second visit to an NREL location, after touring the South Table Mountain campus in 2011 as vice president. President Jimmy Carter paid a visit to NREL in 1978, known then as the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), after establishing SERI in 1977 to focus on solar energy technologies. President George W. Bush led an energy panel discussion at NREL in 2006.

During Tuesday’s visit, President Biden and the VIP guests received insight into NREL’s long-term research mission, vision, and critical objectives, which directly align with the administration and DOE’s decarbonization goals and national energy priorities.

The president said renewable energy research continues to show dividends on our investments. “Today, renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the country,” he said, adding a reminder that to reach our country’s clean-energy goals, the time is now, and will take a concerted effort.

“Whether you’re an engineer at a lab bench,” the president said, or work on a turbine, at a power company, or a small construction business, “everyone has a role to play.”

Aerial photo of a renewable energy research campus with wind turbines and solar panels and with mountains and sky in the background
NREL's Flatirons Campus, nestled along Colorado's Front Range, is the nation's premier wind energy, water power, and grid integration research facility. Photo by Joshua Bauer, NREL

“I was honored to welcome President Joe Biden to NREL’s Flatirons campus today and show him some of the ways that our national laboratory is at work to achieve our country’s clean energy goals,” NREL Director Keller said. “We will continue to accelerate our research and collaboration hand-in-hand with DOE and Secretary Jennifer Granholm to address our urgent climate challenges.”

Learn more about NREL’s mission and programs and the research conducted at its Flatirons Campus.

—Sean Marchant