Colorado is a Renewable Energy Powerhouse

by Tom Clark

Colorado’s diverse and balanced energy industry is the envy of the nation. Our energy sector supports nearly 264,000 workers, providing an annual economic impact of $17.2 billion. Nearly 4,500 energy companies in oil, coal, gas, wind, solar, energy efficiency, and sustainable technology contribute to our vibrant energy ecosystem. 

That ecosystem was built upon decades of innovative entrepreneurs. In 1862, Colorado was the second state to produce oil commercially. Today, we continue that success, ranking seventh in oil production and sixth in natural gas production. 

That spirit of innovation is also apparent in Colorado’s thriving renewable energy sector. Key to this innovation is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the nation’s crown jewel of renewable energy R&D, which has developed countless technologies and advancements, leading to rapidly declining costs for renewables. 

Colorado ranks fourth nationally in cleantech employment, with nearly 2,100 companies. We are the top wind-manufacturing state, with global supply chain companies like turbine manufacturer, Vestas, and steel producer, O’Neal Steel. We are blessed with excellent wind resources; Colorado utilities continue their adoption of wind power, now generating 14.2 percent of the state’s electricity. And according to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, a single 2011 wind power purchase by Xcel Energy “will save ratepayers $100 million.” 

Colorado’s solar industry is equally booming. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, 96 megawatts (MW) were installed in Colorado in the last quarter of 2015, a 370 percent increase over the same quarter in 2014. 

Solar costs fell 78 percent since 2009, and corporations are taking advantage. Several retailers in Colorado are making solar investments, including Kohl's, REI, Safeway, and Walmart. Intel installed nearly 1,000 kilowatts of solar at its Fort Collins campus, one of the largest corporate systems in the state. 

The momentum continues with Xcel Energy’s recent request to build, own, and operate a $1 billion, 600-MW wind farm using Vestas turbines built at local facilities. The project will power 180,000 homes, create 7,000 Colorado jobs over 25 years, and save ratepayers $400 million. Vestas also received one of the largest proposed orders ever from Iowa to build a 2,000 MW wind farm, which if approved, will utilize 1,000 Colorado-built turbines. 

With significant renewable energy manufacturing and development taking place in our own backyard, companies are creating local jobs that can’t be outsourced. In a relatively short timeframe, Colorado’s cleantech employment exceeded 25,000 positions, with 21,500 direct jobs in Metro Denver alone. 

The Denver Metro Chamber and its affiliate, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (Metro Denver EDC), welcome these achievements. Growing private investment, manufacturing, project development, and job creation make Colorado a renewable energy powerhouse, adding an important layer to our diverse energy economy. 

To maintain this innovative culture, we must preserve our energy ecosystem. Colorado’s success is due to healthy competition among energy resources and technologies. That competitive, balanced energy economy has been under attack the past few years. While activist efforts via initiatives 75 and 78 failed to qualify for the 2016 ballot, we must stay vigilant against future attempts ban our oil and gas industry. 

Colorado’s energy economy is based on quality education, sound R&D, efficient suppliers, investors, access to capital, innovation, and a highly skilled workforce. A clustering of talent, tools, and resources that took decades to build, forms a thriving and competitive environment, and enables new energy subsectors to grow. In order to maintain our lead, we must improve processes and push innovation. Efforts to ban industries from the pool of competition stifle progress and weaken Colorado’s energy ecosystem. 

The Denver Metro Chamber and the Metro Denver EDC are proud of our state’s energy heritage, our balanced energy portfolio, and we look forward to the decades of progress, innovation, and entrepreneurship to come. 

Tom Clark

Former CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Council

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