Portland and Denver: two sides of the same coin

Editor’s note: In mid-September, 160 community leaders from Denver traveled to Portland, Ore., for the 2010 Leadership Exchange trip, sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation. Over a whirlind three days, executives from business, nonprofit groups and government toured the city and met with some of their counterparts to learn more about the Pacific Northwest city’s success stories and its toughest challenges. The goal was for Denver leaders to bring home new ideas and make connections that can improve the metro Denver region and the state of Colorado. We asked several of the 2010 delegates to share their perspectives on the trip with ColoradoBiz, one of the trip’s sponsors.

Portland, often described as the “greenest” city in the country by analysts and publications worldwide, places much of its emphasis on sustainability by reducing consumption. Energy-efficient buildings, recycling or re-using, composting and a dominant bicycle culture merge with light rail and hybrid cars to reduce the area’s carbon footprint by not consuming energy.

One noted developer in a hot area of Portland, known as the Pearl District, observed that renters in their buildings compare size in the elevators, bragging “mine’s smaller”-referring to their monthly utility bills. Other sources of pride are bike tire replacements, signifying many miles on two wheels and low annual auto mileage (5,000 miles or less gets you credit).

However, Portland’s leading economic development official, Erin Flynn of the Portland Development Commission, stated that Portland, unlike Denver, is “not so good at economic development.” Flynn noted the leadership role of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation in rallying more than 50 diverse entities throughout the metro Denver region into a cohesive economic engine. While Portland emphasizes sustainability, Denver emphasizes innovation, job creation, energy alternatives and the extension-but not elimination-of our natural resources as a source of fuel.

Denver’s focus on sustainable innovation and jobs is no doubt a product of both public and private sector leadership. Research leaders include the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Governor Bill Ritter has been a champion of the “New Energy Economy” in the government sector, and eco-minded private-sector companies like Xcel Energy, Wells Fargo, Prologis and New Belgium Brewing Company support the move toward cleantech. These efforts are further upheld by the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association and CleanLaunch, Colorado’s Cleantech Incubator.

Despite motivational differences, the people of Colorado and Oregon share a common passion for ensuring their states’ natural environments are preserved for future generations and expect their utilities to embrace this goal as well. The renewable energy standard for Oregon is 15 percent renewable by 2015 and 25 percent by 2025. This year, the Colorado legislature enacted a requirement for 30 percent renewable energy by 2025, a target Xcel Energy is well on its way to meeting.

Portland General Electric (PGE), an investor-owned utility serving Portland and surrounding communities, ranks first in green power sales in the country, according to NREL. Xcel Energy’s Windsource®, launched in 1998 in Colorado, is one of the nation’s largest voluntary, green-energy programs. The American Wind Energy Association has named Xcel Energy the nation’s top wind provider for the past six years.

Customers in Denver and Portland want to be part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions, so energy-efficiency programs are high on the agendas of both cities. Decreasing consumption not only helps consumers manage their energy bills, but reduces the need for utilities to build new power plants. Both states proudly wear the green moniker. The Pacific Northwest also boasts a greater abundance of hydroelectric power. For PGE, it makes up 9 percent of its energy mix compared with Xcel Energy’s 2 percent.

Just as geography favors hydropower for Oregon, Xcel Energy is ideally situated in Colorado for wind and solar. Xcel Energy’s fuel mix includes approximately 11 percent of wind and solar, in contrast to PGE’s 4 percent wind. Xcel Energy will nearly double the amount of wind on its Colorado system in the next six years, from 1,258MW to 2,000MW. With an abundance of sunshine in Colorado, the company’s use of solar energy is expected to increase even more dramatically, from 40MW in 2009 to nearly 500MW in 2015. Corporately, Xcel Energy is ranked fifth in the nation in solar energy capacity.

Portland and Denver may indeed be two sides of the same coin. Actions by the residents and hometown utilities of each city show how companies and communities can use geography, incentives and partnerships to successfully fulfill their commitments to environmental stewardship.
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Categories: Management & Leadership