The balanced energy economy: Colorado as a leader in renewables and a major producer of fossil fuels

Colorado is the seventh largest state for total energy production in the U.S., with crude oil production quadrupling since 2010. As the fifth largest producer of crude oil and the sixth largest producer of natural gas nationwide, Colorado has a wealth of fossil fuels.

But, unlike other major fossil fuel producers, it also has a bright future in renewables.

In July of 2018, then governor-elect Jared Polis promised that the state’s electricity will run solely on renewable power by 2040, the most ambitious such goal in the country.

He has industry buy-in. In December 2018, Xcel Energy set forth a plan to deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity to customers in the eight states it serves by 2050. But, there is lots of work ahead. As it stands, less than 20 percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewables. More, there is no clear vision for “how an electric grid as large as Colorado’s and one mostly powered by coal-fired generators can run entirely on renewables.” Despite these challenges, the state and its energy stakeholders remain ambitious.

The Balanced Energy Economy

Colorado is a leader in the Balanced Energy Economy, according to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). The State’s natural resources include oil, coal, natural gas, as well as wind, solar, and biofuels.

Cleantech efforts in the state are spearheaded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which recognizes Colorado’s abundant renewable energy resources, including wind and solar, and has invested millions of dollars in initiatives across the state. This includes through partnerships with Colorado State University, local governments, and the placement of the National Renewable Energy Lab along the Foothills.

According to the Solar Foundation’s 2018 National Solar Jobs Census, Colorado saw solar jobs grow by 1% even though solar jobs decreased 3.2% across the country. Electricity from renewable sources has more than doubled since 2010 to almost 25% of Colorado’s net generation in 2017, led by increased wind power from the state’s nearly 2,000 turbines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Renewables + Fossil Fuels = Twice the Jobs

Colorado’s energy and natural resources industry supports about 150,000 workers and accounts for nearly $11.4 billion annually, according to the OEDIT. Major employers across the state include Agilent Technologies, Amtel Corporation, Anadarko Petroleum, Colorado Springs Utilities, Encana Corporation, Halliburton, Noble Energy, Vestas, Woodward and Xcel Energy.

Denver South is home to a number of corporate offices for companies that have refining and production operations throughout the Front Range.  The energy industry powers nearly 2,990 energy workers in approximately 370 companies in the Denver South region. Companies include Cool Planet Energy Systems’ CoolTerra™ in Greenwood Village, ARCADIS in Highlands Ranch, Gevo Inc. in Englewood, and Douglas County-based Westmoreland Coal Co.

The diversity of Colorado’s energy industry, with one foot in fossil fuels and one foot stepping ahead towards renewables, is that there are job opportunities for Coloradans in both.

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