Just Three Steps to Success
Leading states show that the road to the new energy economy
is short and smooth.
By Brad Collins
Everything we read and hear today includes
the phrases new energy economy and
green-collar jobs. They’ve become buzzwords in
stump speeches from local, state and national
office seekers. But what do politicians know
about getting from today’s recession to the
new energy economy? The American Solar
Energy Society knows quite a lot.
The new energy economy is fundamentally a low-carbon economy. It runs with a
strong emphasis on energy efficiency, with
climate-sensitive, low-carbon and low-energy
buildings. It’s aggressive in adopting renewable energy technologies for heating, cooling,
industrial processes, transportation and electricity generation. In short, it is what most
Americans want. They’ve said so for decades.
ASES has conducted several state and
national studies to look at renewable energy
and energy efficiency as economic drivers.
Not surprisingly, there is a lesson to be learned
about how a state or nation can achieve a new
The original work in this effort, published less than a year ago, is available free at
ases.org (click on Green Collar Jobs). This
landmark study demonstrated that the renewable energy/energy-efficiency (RE/EE) industry now generates about $1 trillion in annual
revenue and employs more than 8. 5 million
Americans. It forecast that the RE/EE industry
could grow, in an aggressive scenario, to $4.5
trillion and could employ more than 40 million Americans by 2030. This is the potential
future that awaits us. Further work has since
confirmed the forecast.
The best lesson from these workforce
studies is that a number of states are already
showing the way forward. California, Colorado, New Jersey and Nevada have shown that
three vital elements serve to grow the RE/EE
industry in a state:
1. A ready market. The most successful
states have robust incentive programs to create
a market for renewable technology. Renewable
technology pulls energy efficiency along. If
there is a good incentive, you will create a
good market as well as more energy-literate
citizens. The result is creatively green new
buildings, energy retrofits for existing buildings — and the labor force to build them.
2. A welcoming business environment.
There needs to be a suite of incentives for businesses, too. These can include property tax
relief, relocation assistance and reduced costs
for doing business in a state and locale. These
can tip the balance in
favor of one location
3. Aggressive executive leadership. The
governor must be out
front in promoting an
environment in which
RE/EE industries are
courted and signed.
Brad Collins Perhaps the best
example of a state using
these three RE/EE growth drivers is Colorado.
Colorado has attracted enormous numbers of
new businesses to manufacture, install or service the RE/EE market. It started in 2004 when
Colorado voters established a 10 percent renewable portfolio standard (RPS), with a deadline of
2010. By their vote Coloradans created a good
economic driver and a ready local market for
renewable energy products and services. The
Colorado RPS has a 4 percent solar set-aside,
What does one get when
all three drivers are vigor-
ously present in a state?
Lots of jobs.
half of which must be distributive. In 2006,
when Bill Ritter ran for governor, he attracted
wide support by advocating the new energy
economy. One of his first acts as governor was
to double the RPS to 20 percent by 2015. This
made a good incentive a great incentive. Dozens
of RE companies took notice.
Next, the Colorado legislature created a
suite of attractive incentives for renewable
energy businesses to use in their where-to-locate calculations. Lawmakers budgeted $1
billion over five years to build high-performance EE schools, and another $1 billion for
high-performance EE state buildings. They
required $1 billion in investment from the
investor-owned utilities (IOUs) for demand-side management (that is, for energy efficiency
at the customer level), and they improved the
building codes to require better EE. There
were many more incentives. The state legislature’s message: We’ve created a positive business environment for RE companies to locate
Finally, Ritter uses every opportunity to
sell Colorado as the home of the new energy
economy. He personally hosts delegations who
are contemplating siting their operations here.
He meets with the Spanish delegation one day,
a five-person start-up the next and then works
with local universities to attract RE research
partners — all with an eye to attracting renewable energy manufacturing and installation
business to his state.
What does one get when all three drivers are vigorously present in a state? Lots of
jobs and a reputation that will attract more.
In the last year Colorado has seen extraordinary results in its sales pitch to the new energy
economy sector. Here is a small sample:
l Vestas Wind Systems hired 600
Colorado employees in its first year, and is
now expanding to 2,500 workers.
l AVA Solar will hire 500 workers for their
new plant in Longmont.
l Blue Sun Biodiesel will reach 30 employees
in their Golden office by year-end.
l Ascent Solar Technologies is relocating to
Thornton to produce 100 megawatts of solar
panels per year by 2011, and creating 300
jobs in the process.
l Abengoa Solar placed its headquarters in
Lakewood and will hire 1,500 to construct the
280-megawatt utility-scale concentrating solar
power plant in Gila Bend, Ariz.
l Renewable Energy Systems employs 140 at
their new headquarters in Broomfield. RES is
involved in 12 percent of wind farm installations in the United States.
l Siemens will establish a wind turbine
research and development center in Boulder
and will employ 50 scientists and engineers
there by 2013.
l IBM has opened a “green” data center in
Boulder, a $350 million project.
l ConocoPhillips plans for 7,000 jobs at
their new international learning center and
alternative energy/advanced research center
This growth is on top of more than 160
small-business installers around the state. Colorado has proven that businesses thrive where
there exists a ready market, good attractive
financial incentives and executive leadership
that tells them we want you to come. In just
two years, Colorado has opened the door wide
for the jobs of the 21st century.
What is your state doing? r
Brad Collins is the executive director of the American Solar Energy Society ( ases.org).
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