Economy & Economic Development  August 13, 2010

New Energy Economy fueled 2007

As 2007 began, there were rumors in the wind in Northern Colorado.

Specifically, talk was that a Danish wind turbine maker was eyeing the region for a factory that could bring hundreds of good-paying jobs and give a huge boost to Gov. Bill Ritter’s New Energy Economy.

Those rumors came true.

Vestas, a global leader in the wind-energy market, selected Windsor as the site of its first American production facility. By 2008, Vestas was producing giant wind-turbine blades in the Great Western Industrial Park developed by The Broe Group of Denver.

Since then, the company has continued to ramp up its Colorado investment, building more factories in Brighton and Pueblo and locating a research site in Louisville. It has also attracted other companies to the area to help supply its operations.

Luring Vestas to Windsor was a feather in the cap of local officials who had worked diligently with the Danes. And it was a highly visible accomplishment for the new governor’s office, which had set out to establish Colorado as a leader in the nation’s move to greener energy.

That effort continued as the 2007 General Assembly passed several pieces of legislation to increase the use of solar, wind and other forms of alternative energy. The flurry of laws – including requiring utilities to double the amount of electricity produced from renewable energy sources by 2020 – was causing concern for the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, a lobbying group for Northern Colorado business interests.

The NCLA sent a letter to Ritter in March asking that a comprehensive energy strategy be developed to make certain business interests weren’t unduly harmed by the avalanche of energy-related bills.

“We are concerned about the potential for adverse impacts to our economy by passing numerous pieces of legislation without carefully examining the cumulative impact,” the NCLA letter said. “We are asking that a comprehensive strategy be developed with the input of stakeholders like us to ensure these measures become law as part of an overall plan.”

Ethanol in Windsor

Ritter carried his New Energy Economy message to Northern Colorado in late March, dedicating a new E85 fuel site in Fort Collins, touring an ethanol plant in Windsor and making a speech at a Rotary Club meeting in which he emphasized that one of the primary goals of his 11-week-old administration was to make Colorado a model of alternative energy research and production.

The Northern Colorado Business Report quickly picked up on the heightened focus on alternative energy, sponsoring the first Green Summit in April. The event featured discussions on wind power, green building and water conservation.

Supporting the New Energy Economy on the local level was the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, which had been formed in 2006. The cluster was a group of local businesses along with Colorado State University, Larimer County, the Fort Collins chamber and both of the region’s economic development organizations intent on promoting clean energy in Northern Colorado.

CSU heightened its commitment to alternative energy in March when it announced it would build a 100-turbine wind farm on its Maxwell Ranch north of Fort Collins that could ultimately provide all the electricity needed for its campus with enough left over to sell on the grid.

Three years later, the project still remains a goal of CSU with a new development partner after the original developer bowed out due to a lack of financing.

One big spinoff of CSU’s growing focus on alternative energy was the announcement in August that AVA Solar would build a 70,000-square-foot solar panel plant that would employ at least 500. The company, now known as Abound Solar, grew out of research at CSU and was considered “the beginning of the fulfillment of the clean-energy cluster’s promise,´ said Hunt Lambert, then CSU’s associate vice president for economic development.

Fort ZED and cookstoves

An ambitious project to create a 45-megawatt net zero-energy-district for the area surrounding the CSU campus, dubbed Fort ZED, began raising money in 2007 in anticipation of a $50,000 matching fund grant from the US Department of Energy. Central to the success of Fort ZED is a smart-grid, a technology being developed locally by companies such as Spirae and put to practical use by companies such as New Belgium Brewing. Northern Colorado was well on its way to becoming a magnet for more research and development in the clean energy sector.

The focus on clean energy ranged from the massive to the micro. A record corn crop was available for production of 50 million gallons of ethanol at Front Range Energy in Windsor, while local inventors worked on conversion kits to allow more vehicles to use the alternative fuel.

In October, Envirofit International, which had spun out of CSU’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory in 2003, received a $25 million, five-year grant to distribute 10 million clean-burning cookstoves to developing countries. The project was designed to save lives, but it also helped elevate the reputation of the university – and the region – as being on the cutting edge of new energy research.

The following year, CSU faculty member and Fort Collins city councilor Wade Troxell would carry the New Energy Economy message all the way to Denmark and the 2008 Copenhagen Climate Conference.

Another “alternative” fuel hasn’t fared as well in Northern Colorado. Opposition was swift when a Canadian company announced it intended to mine uranium at a 5,000-acre site just west of Nunn in Weld County, if it could obtain all the necessary local, state and federal approvals. Three years later, Powertech is progressing with its plans for in-situ mining as well as similar projects in Wyoming and South Dakota – and the opposition remains.

As 2007 began, there were rumors in the wind in Northern Colorado.

Specifically, talk was that a Danish wind turbine maker was eyeing the region for a factory that could bring hundreds of good-paying jobs and give a huge boost to Gov. Bill Ritter’s New Energy Economy.

Those rumors came true.

Vestas, a global leader in the wind-energy market, selected Windsor as the site of its first American production facility. By 2008, Vestas was producing giant wind-turbine blades in the Great Western Industrial Park developed by The Broe Group of Denver.

Since then, the company has continued to ramp up…

Related Content