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Posted: November 02, 2012

Quarterly energy report:

What's become of the New Energy Economy?

Allen Best

You might wonder whether Colorado’s New Energy Economy should be swapped for a different model. Abound Solar, the Loveland-based manufacturer of thin-film solar panels, flopped into bankruptcy in July, and General Electric put the skids on a new factory in Aurora that was to employ 355 people, also manufacturing thin-film solar.

Factories for wind components, so recently the symbol of new-energy triumph in Colorado, have also been buffeted by adversity. Vestas, the Danish company, this year has shed 29 percent of its 1,700 employees at its plants in Windsor, Brighton and Pueblo for manufacture of blades, towers and nacelles.

But say this for the New Energy Economy, the phrase trumpeted by Bill Ritter in his successful campaign for governor in 2006: If it now seems to be sputtering, it’s been an exhilarating ride.

From being dead last among the 50 states in installed wind capacity in 2000, Colorado now is eighth. Strong winds and minimal demand on April 15, between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., allowed Xcel Energy to deliver nearly 57 percent of its electrons to customers in Colorado from wind farms, a national record.

Despite the layoffs and bankruptcies, Colorado’s new-energy players have allowed the state to ride out the recession better than some others, says Tom Clark, chief executive of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

"History will treat former Gov. Ritter very well, even if the short-term history will not," says Clark. "When you look at the magnitude of what the economy looked like in 2006, when he was elected, there wasn’t much going on. And it was going to get even worse. He only had had one horse to ride, and that was clean tech. He rode it like a rodeo rider."

Clark and others had told Ritter that Colorado enjoyed several advantages that would allow it to prosper with the clean tech sector in coming years. It had research institutes along the Front Range and a major airport with good connections to far-flung places. In the case of wind, it boasted a proximity to the blustery wind corridor that blows across the continent’s short-grass prairies. Minneapolis and Dallas were too far away. Colorado’s Front Range was just right for companies like Vestas.

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