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Colorado enjoys the spotlight on its renewables

Colorado's renewable energy promise was on the national stage Tuesday with President Barack Obama praising the state as a leader in clean energy that will deliver on its potential.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walk get a tour of solar panels atop the Denver Museum of Nature and Science from Namaste Solar CEO Blake Jones on Tuesday. JIM WATSON / AFP-Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Colorado's renewable energy promise was on the national stage this week when President Barack Obama chose Denver as the stage for signing the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

The 250 or so renewable energy business leaders who attended the ceremony Tuesday weren't surprised.

"You're asking why Colorado? It's like it's in the water here," said Jo Elyn Newcomb, general manager of Boulder-based Independent Power Systems, which among other things puts solar panels in people's homes.

The federal economic recovery act will pump money and tax credits into renewable energy projects around the country, and Obama highlighted Colorado as leading the way in developing new energy technologies, such as "smart grid" projects to improve power delivery and boost conservation.

First 'smart grid' city in Boulder?
"We will build on the work that's being done in places like Boulder, a community that's on pace to be the world's first smart grid city," Obama said.

Xcel Energy chose Boulder for its smart grid project, in which a fully a networked grid will deliver renewable energy like wind and solar power, along with that generated by fuels like coal, to customers through a largely automated system.

George Douglas, a spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, said the Department of Energy will decide what projects will get money and how much. He said he didn't know yet how much Colorado would receive.

But according to the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, a public policy think tank, the state will get $99 million for weatherization projects and $48.3 million in the State Energy Program to support renewable energy and efficiency projects.

"It's very fitting and very proper that he come here to Denver, Colorado, for the signing ceremony because we are at the crossroads of the new energy future here in America," said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former Colorado senator.

From layoffs to hiring
Blake Jones, CEO of Boulder-based Namaste Solar, said his company's future is already looking brighter with the signing of the bill at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Jones, who led Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on a tour of solar panels his company installed on the museum's roof, said he had been considering laying off some of his 55 employees. Now, he's looking to expand his work force by 40 percent by 2010, he said.

"We're just one small business, creating one to two dozen jobs," Jones said. "The point that I want to stress is that there are thousands of businesses just like ours that will be doing the same thing."

Brian Willson, a Colorado State University professor who leads renewable energy projects there, said the state is well positioned to capitalize on the new funding because of a climate that provides good sun and wind resources.

Colorado also has an abundance of natural gas and oil that will make industries' transition to renewable energy easier, he said.

"If you think about it, an oil company transitioning to biofuel is much less of a stretch than a maker of automotive widgets," Willson said.

Obama said the stimulus bill will create 60,000 jobs in Colorado, but Gov. Bill Ritter was even more optimistic.

"He mentioned the 60,000-plus jobs. That doesn't take into account the job creation that will happen with our national research laboratories," Ritter said. "We have the best renewable research corridor in America, maybe in the world."