Colorado’s solar industry growing jobs, lowering costs

Leading up to the election, discussions about our nation’s energy future seemed to play a lesser role than other topics, despite its direct impact on our lives and livelihoods. With the transition to a new administration, it is more important than ever to demonstrate real world examples. As one of the nearly 5,000 Coloradans employed by the solar industry, I’d like to share the impact of energy policy on my life.

I moved to Colorado from Chicago about six years ago, drawn by the ample access to open spaces and the state’s natural beauty. My family bought a home in the Denver area in 2012, and soon thereafter decided to install solar panels on our roof because we it made good economic sense. We wanted to produce our own electricity, and the costs were low enough that it seemed like a no-brainer.

After deciding I needed a career change last year, I realized that Colorado’s emerging clean energy sector could provide an opportunity to align my ideals — economic development, energy independence, and environmental protection — with my work interests. Clean Energy Collective, a community solar developer based in the Denver area, gave me that chance.

CEC is currently the nation’s largest community solar installer, and is part of a rapidly growing market that allows individuals or businesses to purchase or subscribe to a portion of the power produced from a nearby facility and receive a credit on their electric bill. Community solar projects provide access to affordable clean energy for the nearly three-quarters of all households and businesses that are unable to host solar systems on their roofs because they rent their spaces or lack a suitable roof for installation.

Our company is just one of 380 in the state that builds, develops or supplies the solar energy sector. Colorado’s solar industry is rapidly growing, in part because the cost of photovoltaic installations has dropped 66 percent since 2010. As a result, solar installations attracted $305 million in new investment to the state in 2015. This represents a 44 percent increase over the previous year, and total investment is expected to grow again this year. 

Perhaps more importantly, most of the jobs our industry is creating can’t be outsourced — an issue we heard loud and clear this election cycle — and are providing people like me a fulfilling way to help get our country’s economy back on track. And these jobs aren’t just located in Denver’s metro region – renewable jobs are increasingly opening up across our state, particularly in areas that need new investment like our eastern plains and the Western Slope. National employment in the solar industry has grown 20 percent each of the last three years with few signs of slowing down. These are exactly the types of jobs we need in Colorado and across America.

Colorado has already made great progress on transitioning its electricity use to cleaner sources, but there is much more work to do, and we expect community solar will play an increasingly important role going forward, particularly right here in Colorado. Let’s call on President Trump and Colorado’s state leaders to encourage future growth in our rapidly maturing industry.

Jim Ulbrich is product manager for Clean Energy Collective, based in Louisville.