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Gov't Shutdown Didn't Stop the Energy Department's Solar Decathlon

8:26 AM, Oct 15, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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The past two weeks have been filled with stories of government offices, agencies, services, workers, monuments, websites, memorials, and parks that have been closed, suspended, furloughed, and even barricaded.  Perhaps the most notorious of the actions taken has been the barricading of the open-air World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., where veterans, some in wheelchairs, who had flown in on "Honor Flights" were denied access.  But one government sponsored-event that was spared the impact of the shutdown was the Department of Energy's 2013 Solar Decathlon, last held in 2011.  The event's website (a .gov site) describes the competition:

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

There was some concern at the outset of the government shutdown that the event, scheduled for October 3-13, would be affected, but a post dated October 1 on the event's blog allayed such fears.  And not only would the event continue, but federal employees would be allowed to participate [emphasis added]:

Despite the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 competition will continue as planned. 

The Solar Decathlon is funded by a mix of last year’s federal funding and at least 30 private-sector sponsors. Student teams from across the country and around the world have worked for two years to design and build their solar-powered, energy-efficient houses and have been working onsite for the past week to prepare for this highly-anticipated event. Federal employee participation is limited to personnel necessary to allow the show to proceed.

Not all activities of the Department of Energy (DOE) escaped the effects of the shut down.  The main website of the DOE currently contains the following notice:

The website for the Solar Decathlon, run by the DOE, however, was updated more than a dozen times during the last two weeks, as recently as Monday, October 14:

Posts during that time covered topics from Dinner Parties Show Team Hospitality to Cool Houses, Cool Energy, Cool Science to For Solar Decathletes, Watching a Movie Is All in a Night’s Work.

With the National Park Service trying to cut off access to even privately owned and run facilities such as Mt. Vernon and the Claude Moore Colonial Farm due to tenuous government connections, it is difficult to see how a non-essential government competition such as the Solar Decathlon, even with its partial private funding, managed to be carried off and even include limited federal government employee participation. The Obama administration's commitment to its environmental agenda is strong indeed if a solar-energy competition is elevated above veterans' access to war memorials.  In this case, it appears "green" trumped red, white and blue. 

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