Guest column: A Colorado clean technology revolution…

The Obama administration held the nation’s first Forum on Climate Change on Aug. 27, 2009, in Fort Collins. At that forum, Gov. Bill Ritter and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar engaged in somewhat tongue-and-cheek banter with California-based regulators.

The discourse centered on clean technology innovation and entrepreneurship, and whether it will propel the Front Range of Colorado to become the Rocky Mountain region’s version of Silicon Valley.

From where we sit, this could actually happen.

Among his peers, Ritter has been the most vocal national proponent of the new energy economy – with the possible exception of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. As he completes his last year in office, Ritter can point with justifiable pride to a burgeoning clean technology industry in Colorado, driven in part by his initiatives.

Recent facts and findings include:

• In June 2009, the Pew Charitable Trust report, “The Clean Energy Economy,” identified Colorado as the fifth most significant state with regard to clean technology investment and job creation.
• Colorado is home to more than 700 companies involved in the clean technology market, and those companies currently employ more than 20,000 Coloradans. These companies range from household names, such as Conoco-Phillips, to others that are quickly becoming well known to Coloradans, such as Vestas Wind Systems, Ascent Solar and Solix Biofuels. In January, Bannon Automotive, a New York-based electric car company, approached Ritter’s office regarding moving its corporate headquarters to Colorado, as well as locating its second plant in this state.
• Colorado is one of only five states to have initiated an industry association, the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association – focused solely on the development of clean technologies in Colorado.

That said, we have a long way to go before the “Colorado clean technology revolution” entitles us to bragging rights, even on a regional basis. Currently, California investment in the clean technology market exceeds investment in Colorado by a 10-to-1 margin. And on the world stage, investment in China in clean technology exceeds investment in Colorado by a 50-to-1 margin. While Colorado has the research, financial, natural resources and entrepreneurial assets in place to develop a sustained clean technology leadership position – both nationally and globally – our state must redouble its focus on the critical demands of this market in the collaborative fashion that has gotten us this far.

If the Colorado clean technology revolution is to be anything more than a fantasy, Colorado’s next governor, the presidents of the Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado and Colorado State University; the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association, Colorado’s financial sector and our state’s congressional delegation all must work together to meet critical market needs. These needs include:

• Continued funding of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Colorado research universities.
• Recruitment and retention of talented clean technology executives.
• Increased funding to our promising clean-tech companies from all sources, including: federal grants, industrial development funding, venture capital and seed investment.
• Development of a national, predictable, energy and climate policy.

As regulatory systems are put in place around our national demand for energy security, overlain by international climate initiatives, Colorado has a foundation in place to lead in the development of clean technology. With our world-class research universities, along with a growing number of entrepreneurial clean-tech companies and a financial community that recognizes the huge upside in clean technology, what we most need is the will, regardless of political winds, to facilitate this economic growth engine.

Faegre & Benson hopes to add positively to this value proposition – and we are betting the Colorado clean technology revolution is real.

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