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Clean Energy Is Still Booming in Colorado

Politics aside, the prospects for jobs that create and manage alternatives to oil and gas remain promising in the Centennial State.

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On Friday, the Colorado chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national nonpartisan group focused on environmentally sound business policies around energy, released a report showing that the clean energy sector in our state is alive and well.

The report, “Clean Jobs Colorado,” says that there currently are more than 62,000 Colorado jobs in the field, with an expected growth rate this year of about two percent. Wind, solar, and renewable energy facilities lead the way. Wind power now supplies 16 percent of our state’s energy and has added more than $4.8 billion to Colorado’s bottom line. Plus, there are currently more than 380 companies in the state that perform some kind of solar operations, contributing to the more than $300 million in solar installations that were completed in 2016.

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As most readers know, the battle over oil-and-gas development—most notably fracking—has raged here for years, with pro-development forces looking for more places to drill and environmental advocates—everyone from tree-huggers to hunters and fishermen—pushing back against encroachment on our untamed lands.

These skirmishes have found their way into our state politics via proposed and passed laws, legal challenges, ballot initiatives, and occasional compromises (many of them pleasing no one).

This situation figures to become more complex in 2017. Republican control of the White House and Congress will embolden the “drill-baby-drill” crowd from sea to shining sea. But the boom-and-bust cycle so inherent to the oil and gas business has a way of making practices like fracking seem like a no-brainer when oil and gas prices are high and a fool’s errand when they plummet.

From E2’s perspective, there’s enough opportunity to go around. Although Colorado coal and natural gas still power the vast majority of our electric grid, those two resources are no longer our cheapest sources of energy. Wind and solar prices are dropping, which is why E2 advocates for public policies that would renew and expand our official commitments to renewable energy, moves that would resonate all over the state: Although the plurality of Colorado’s clean energy jobs—about 25,000—are in the Denver metro area, the other 37,000 are everywhere else, with the rural Eastern Plains enjoying a particularly heavy concentration.

Moreover, 65 percent of clean energy positions here are centered around energy efficiency—the people who make sure these emerging technologies are working as cost-effectively as possible by improving things such as lighting, heating, and cooling practices. And almost nine of every 10 clean-energy companies is a small business employing fewer than 50 people, which fuels a nimble and innovative competitive business environment.

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E2 concludes that a national political leadership class that’s warm to oil and gas need not compromise the progress clean energy has made, and that with the right policy moves they can all coexist peacefully—and profitably. With our seemingly endless supply of sun and wind complementing the resources we have underground, Colorado has a unique smorgasbord of energy options, and enough smart and creative people building and administering them to cook up solutions that should be able to work for just about everyone.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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