A couple of months ago, Governor Bill Ritter celebrated the opening of Abound Solar's new Longmont manufacturing plant in typical grand-opening style: red ribbon, golden garden shears, shiny new equipment. But Ritter, who's often called on to officiate such events, was flanked by a distinguished duo that day: environmental advocate and public activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Hermann Scheer, the chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy. That's right: One of the most prominent renewable energy activists in the world and a Kennedy came to a Longmont factory opening.
The event wasn't an anomaly: In March, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark visited Brighton for the opening of a wind turbine plant, and in May, Vice President Joe Biden stopped in Denver to commend the state's green energy jobs. Even President Barack Obama toured the solar panels atop the Denver Museum of Nature & Science before signing the stimulus package in February.
National and international leaders, it seems, are eager to jump on Ritter's energy bandwagon, which he's been riding since using the "new energy economy" as his chief selling point in the 2006 gubernatorial race. In his inaugural address, Ritter said he wanted Colorado to be "bolder than any other state when it comes to implementing renewable energy." At the time, gasoline prices were still cheap—just over $2 a gallon—and when gas skyrocketed the following summer, Ritter looked prophetic. A glowing New Yorker profile in September 2008, in fact, suggested that Obama could pick up a few ideas from Ritter; the future president adopted the governor's energy language in his own rhetoric.
Since taking office, Ritter has made energy a priority, providing financial incentives for clean energy companies. Today, the state's renewable energy and energy efficiency industry earns more than $19 billion in revenues and employs more than 90,000 Coloradans. In less than two years, the state has quadrupled the amount of wind-generated electricity. Meanwhile, Xcel Energy is using Boulder as its first "smart-grid" city to improve the electric grid, and Solix Biofuels, a Colorado State University spin-off, is opening the world's first commercial facility to develop biofuel from algae in Durango.
A thriving alternative energy industry might be Ritter's key to reelection in 2010, given that he's being slammed by the left for his vetoes on labor legislation and ripped on the right for tightening rules on oil and gas exploration—all while trying to balance the most underfunded state budget since the Great Depression. You can count on Ritter to maintain the heat on the burgeoning new energy economy. Governor, we'll plan to see you at the next solar plant opening.