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Posted: December 01, 2009

Colorado’s green policy initiatives

New Energy Economy positions state at forefront of green tech

Kris Wiesenfeld and Kevin Geminiuc

The market for green technology is simply the largest market ever seen in the history of mankind. Whether motivated by carbon emission reduction or by the desire for energy independence, the worldwide replacement of the energy production and distribution infrastructure, the switching of how we transport ourselves and our goods, and the reduction of energy consumed is happening, today.

Green technology is making it possible, and Colorado is poised to be at the forefront of creating and producing that green technology.

Colorado’s government, at every level, is fostering the use, production, and development of green technology. This positive environment creates both the demand for new technologies and the R&D to create those technologies. Once these two conditions are met, investment often follows, and we see significant examples of this in Colorado.

The New Energy Economy
Attributed to Governor Bill Ritter, the "New Energy Economy" is a buzzword for the growing understanding that going green and clean is a positive rather than a negative force for an economy. The concept has become accepted to the point that both presidential campaigns adopted the phrase.

Government action statewide has been very active in creating our share of the New Energy Economy through green legislation and policy initiatives. Last year, the state was ranked 13th in a state-by-state assessment of "green-ness," conducted by Forbes.com. The assessment ranked each state in six equally weighted categories: carbon footprint, air quality, water quality, hazardous waste management, policy initiatives and energy consumption.

Colorado green policy in a nutshell
Amendment 37, adopted in 2004, can be viewed as the first major policy move toward a new energy economy in Colorado. As the first voter-approved mandate requiring that a state’s energy include a specified renewable energy percentage, it has become a model that 16 other states have followed.

The success of Amendment 37 and the election in 2006 of Gov. Ritter, who included the New Energy Economy as a cornerstone of his campaign, made the will of the people clear. Upon election, Gov. Ritter implemented his support through several initiatives: re-creation of the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), focusing the Office of Economic Development and International Trade on the green tech industry, and appointments to the Public Utilities Commission.

In 2007, the Colorado legislature and the Governor worked together to pass eight significant bills to support the New Energy Economy, ranging from renewable energy tax credits, support for energy management capability, support for biofuels, and expansion of the Amendment 37 renewable energy (solar, wind or biomass) requirement in 2020 from 10 percent to 20 percent.

In addition, the Legislature last year decided that $7 million to $10 million from the state’s gaming receipts would annually fund the Clean Energy Fund which invests in green technology development and market penetration through the New Economy Economic Development (NEED) grant program.

In 2008, another five bills were passed supporting small-scale renewable energy production, incorporation of solar panels in new housing developments, requirements for energy efficiency in new state funded low-income housing, and support for energy efficiency improvements for low- to medium-income homeowners.

The Governor’s policy
With the re-creation of the GEO — originally formed in the ‘70’s but allowed to go dormant — Gov. Ritter directly promotes energy policy and legislation, renewable energy production and use, sustainability (conservation and efficiency) in government and non-government buildings, and technology development through the Collaboratory and the the Clean Energy Fund.

The most direct effect of the GEO on green technology is through the fund’s NEED grants which fund early stage companies in their efforts to develop and market green technologies.

Several recipients of NEED grants have presented to the Colorado Green Tech Group: Czero, Inc. of Ft. Collins is using the money it received to build a prototype hydraulic hybrid vehicle and is stretching the value of the grant by hiring students from CSU to help with its development.

Sunflower Corp of Boulder is matching its award funds and using them to place day-lighting systems in public buildings. These demos will allow Sunflower Corp. to refine their technology and provide a beachhead for launching their product into the market.

Hybrids Plus of Boulder is refining technology for converting standard hybrids to plug-in hybrids and developing technology to connect electric hybrids to the power grid for supplying power during daily peak demand.

Gov. Ritter’s focus on the green tech industry through outreach campaigns to bring in European investment and production facilities have resulted in significant investments, including Vestas of Denmark which chose Colorado as its U.S. manufacturing center, bringing 1,450 green collar jobs to Windsor and Brighton.

Municipal and community policy
Policy support of green technology is not confined to the state level. Individual cities and communities are taking action, creating ‘clusters’ of green-tech activity requiring new technology, funding and policy changes.

The cluster concept being used in Colorado today to promote growth of the green tech industries is a business concept defined by Harvard’s Michael Potter as "a geographically proximate group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by customer, supplier, or other relationships."

FortZED, a partnership between the city of Ft. Collins and the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, is creating a "Zero Electricity District" in Ft. Collins, which generates as much electricity as it consumes. Support for FortZed came early from the GEO, the city of Fort Collins and technology contributions from participating companies. In April, the partnership recently received a $6.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Smart Grid City in Boulder is inviting customers to have infrastructure upgrades and new technologies installed in their homes that allow them to "optimize" their energy usage, use plug-in hybrids to connect to the grid, and monitor/automate their appliances. The Smart Grid City initiative will cost upwards of $100 million and is funded through Xcel Energy and government sources with contributions of technology from many companies looking to validate the effectiveness of their technology.

While the current economic times are causing investment to slow and companies to tighten their belts, we all need to remember that the green technology market is the largest single market ever. Whether we are researchers, entrepreneurs, or investors, we need to make bold decisions, for the pot at the end of this rainbow is huge and with proper preparation, as we move out of this recession, Colorado can be in a position to make the lion’s share.

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Kris Wiesenfeld and Kevin Geminiuc are Front Range green tech business evangelists working to help empower the creation of the technology to power a clean future. They are the founders of the Colorado Green Tech Group, whose monthly meetings (open to the public) allow networking of the Front Range green tech community and early stage companies to present their efforts and potential to investors. Find out more or contact Kris and Kevin at coloradogreentech.net
Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

I am a new principal at a small rural school - Gardner School. I would love to find out more of the possible grants involved in going green. I would be exstatic if I could facilitate building a green school in this county to serve both locals and students who are interested in the green technology. We have the perfect weather conditions for this. In fact, there are many individuals in the area who are already off and on the grid. Just think, if students were ready to think and do green by the time they were ready for college. They could be world leaders. The school could be technologically advanced and totally green, as well as produce items for around the world. If you have an resources, please fill me in on this. By linda bennett on 2009 07 03

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