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Posted: June 01, 2009

Cote’s Colorado: Colorado clean tech goes to Washington

Washington is the new Wall Street

Mike Cote

Forget that schism between Wall Street and Main Street. If you want money these days, you’ll find your bankers at the nation’s capital, especially if you’re a clean-tech company from the state whose governor swears he coined the phrase “New Energy Economy.”

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $61.3 billion for clean energy initiatives, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, updating the electrical grid and energy research projects plus billions more in tax incentives. You can bet the state where President Barack Obama flew in to sign the stimulus plan in February is lining up to secure some of that capital.

“Washington is the new Wall Street,” lobbyist Kyle Simpson told a group of about 100 businesspeople gathered at a meeting of the newly launched Colorado Cleantech Industry Association in April. “They’ve put a big collection of dollars behind this like they’ve never done before over a sustained period.”

Simpson works for the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the association’s lobbying arm. Speaking to the Denver group via Web conferencing from Washington, D.C., Simpson and fellow policy director Mike McAdams offered a primer on how to apply for funding. They noted that federal agencies used to working on long-range projects are having difficulty adjusting to programs that must be allocated by 2010.

“This administration is pushing extremely hard in order to meet the timelines for the stimulus funds,” Simpson said.

In other words, the government can’t get the money out the door fast enough. Projects that have been sitting on the shelf waiting for money are the most likely candidates, as are consortiums that include several entities, such as companies and research institutions studying battery technology.

“I don’t see a lot of major capital-intensive projects in the year ahead without federal government involvement,” said John Herrick, senior counsel in the law firm’s Denver office and a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Herrick said state officials will need to demonstrate “creativity and courage,” the latter for the public backlash some projects might face on talk radio. And with tight deadlines, they shouldn’t wait around for new guidelines from federal officials, he said.

“Given the time schedule … I don’t think that state officials will have that luxury,” he said.

Jeff Bisberg, CEO and president of Albeo Technologies, was among the representatives of clean-tech startups who attended the meeting. Albeo recently learned it’s in the second stage of consideration for funding from the Department of Energy as part of the Building Technologies Program. Albeo — the featured tech startup in last November’s ColoradoBiz — develops industrial applications for light-emitting-diode (LED) lights.

Bisberg is enthusiastic about the prospects for renewable energy and what the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association is trying to achieve. The association includes state government, venture capitalists, law and accounting firms and energy-related companies.

“I think it’s a perfect time for it. The diversity of interests is difficult to manage,” he said. “Energy efficiency is very different from biofuels, which is very different from batteries. It really feels like a critical mass is coming together.”

CoorsTek, a company established by the Coors brewing family in 1910 that develops ceramics, plastic and metal for industrial use, has several applications for stimulus funding, including energy storage, biomass and biofuel conversion, said Doug Coors, vice president of operations.

Coors’ take on the stimulus funding and the emerging clean-tech industry was succinct and alluded to its uncertainty: “It’s fuzzy, but it’s exciting.”

We’ve been down this road before. In June of 2008, the cover of ColoradoBiz depicted a Ph.D. candidate at the Colorado School of Mines testing algae for possible use as biofuel. The technology she was studying represented research derived from work first conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 1978.

But McAdams says there’s a clear movement among Washington politicians on both sides of the political fence this time to change energy policy.

“I anticipate that this is not going to be the flavor of the day,” he said. “It’s going to be around for a while.”

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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