Congress' Office of Technology Assessment issued a scathing critique of the Department of Energy's conservation and solar energy programs yesterday, saying the programs "do not appear adequate" to meet DOE's own goals.

OTA specifically criticized long delays in the department's processing of requests for hiring new staff and in letting contracts associated with the conservation and solar energy programs, calling it "a nearly impossible situation."

"Not only are important projects delayed, but high-quality people and companies may not be willing to wait so long," the report declared.

"There is a pervasive belief within and outside of DOE that senior DOE management does not really care about the C&SE programs, and that the quality of management has been inadequate, as well as transient," it added. t

The report, requested by the House Committee on Science and Technology, was compiled by two advisory committees with representatives from a wide range of organizations -- including oil companies electric utilties, environmental groups and universities among others.

It was critical of what it called DOE's failure to set priorities among various conservation and solar programs "to ensure that the total resources are being apportioned to achieve the maximum result." And it stated flatly, "DOE has no consistent method for evaluating program performance."

Solar energy for the purpose of this report and DOE programs generally includes not only solar collectors on the roof of a house to heat water or the house itself, but also wind, hydroelectric and ocean thermal energy systems and the use of "biomass" -- a catchall for everything from grain or wood to organic garbage that can be used as a source of energy -- along with the direct generation of electricity from sunlight in a process known as photovoltaics.

As an example of a lack of adequate planning and direction, the report cited the goals for solar energy use announced by President Carter last year. Part of that total involves production of 1.7 quadrillon BUT's worth of energy from wind by the 2000. Total energy use in the United States last year was less than 80 "quads."

"An adequately detailed plan would specify how many machines (windmills) ov varying sizes would be required to produce 1.7 quads, the industrial capacity over time to produce and deploy them, material and capital requirements, the schedule for technological improvements . . . and estimates of when and how nonhardware-related market barriers can be evaluated and addressed," the report said.

"Such a plan would delineate a clear path to the desired goals, including what must be done this year as part of the overall effort," it continued. "Not only would such a plan provide clear direction to what programs, but it would also provide a means for Congress to evaluate programs' progress and need for funding . . . "

According to the report, little of that has happened.