I’ve been a part of Colorado’s clean energy industry for nearly two decades. In that time, I’ve seen wind energy costs plummet, municipalities slash power bills by building energy-efficient schools and the solar market explode from a few diehard renegades to a technology favored by America’s most profitable corporations.
But the most dramatic shift I’ve seen? Jobs.
According to the just-released Clean Jobs Colorado report from the Rocky Mountains chapter of the national, nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and the Golden-based Energy Efficiency Business Coalition, more than 57,500 Coloradans now work in clean energy. Colorado ranks No. 7 nationally in renewable energy jobs and nearly four in 10 local clean energy workers are involved in construction.
Clean energy workers come from all 64 counties. They include innovators who develop electric drivetrains for commercial van fleets, technicians who help raise wind turbines on the Pueblo County plains and entrepreneurs building out their vision of electric vehicle charging stations all along Interstate 70.
Nationwide, more people now work in clean energy — some 3.2 million — than in real estate, agriculture and investment banking. There are now as many clean energy workers as there are schoolteachers. And there are far more Americans working in clean energy — twice as many — than in coal, oil and other fossil fuel industries.
To better understand how clean energy boosts Colorado’s economy, look at Xcel’s latest energy resource plan. Unveiled last month, the plan retires 660 megawatts of coal generation from the Comanche 1 and 2 power plants in Pueblo, while adding nearly 1,900 megawatts of wind and solar power. In the first five years of the plan in Pueblo County alone, more than 500 jobs could be created and $44 million added to the county’s gross domestic product, according to a report from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado.
Previous Xcel plans triggered an avalanche of bids from developers. According to the Denver Post: “The wind and solar bids, in particular, were the lowest ever received by a utility in the country and several came in below the cost of coal, even with the inclusion of battery storage.”
Nearly half of Colorado’s clean energy jobs are in energy efficiency in five metro areas — Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Fort Collins-Loveland and Greeley. But the state’s rural areas are clean energy hot spots, too, including Garfield, Mesa, La Plata and Yuma counties. Nationwide, about 99 percent of all wind energy capacity in the United States is in rural areas. When a wind project is up and running, it’s often the largest taxpayer in the area, providing steady income for landowners and creating jobs.
I’ve worked wind projects all over Colorado, including in Huerfano County. More recently, I started a maintenance company with three people. Now, we employ 110 workers, including 90 wind technicians, many of whom trained at vocational schools like Ecotech Institute in Aurora and Northeastern Tech in Sterling. It takes six weeks of classroom training — a $15,000 investment — plus on-the-job training to become a qualified wind technician, which has a starting annual salary of about $40,000. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind technician is expected to be America’s second-fastest-growing job over the next decade. (The fastest-growing job? Solar installer.)
Like any sector, clean energy requires a steady policy environment. Lawmakers can boost the clean energy economy and help create more jobs by ensuring our state sources at least 60 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030. At the same time, Colorado should set mandatory, economy-wide limits on carbon pollution and strengthen those limits over time.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, we can properly fund research and development investments at the U.S. Dept. of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, renew the 197D commercial building energy efficiency tax deduction and protect commonsense clean vehicles policies.
With 57,500 Coloradans working in clean energy, the stakes are too high — and the economics too compelling — not to do everything we can to keep the sector growing for the next 20 years and beyond.
E2 Chapter Director and Boulder resident Michael Rucker is the chief executive officer and founder of Scout Clean Energy LLC and co-founder of Harvest Clean Energy Services Inc.
Article Courtesy Of: The Pueblo Chiefton