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Opinion: The technology, and workforce, for clean energy already are in place. Now it’s time to invest

The payback would be 6-to-1, and would save Coloradans billions in energy costs

The gears of Washington are beginning to turn and Congress finally is poised to address some of our country’s most pressing challenges: stimulating the economy, rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and investing in clean technology to help address climate change. There’s one industry that can help the country do all three: advanced energy.

Emilie Olson

Advanced energy technologies are the tools our state needs to transition to a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable energy system. Advanced energy workers can, for example, be found installing solar panels on rooftops of small businesses, schools, homes or managing the construction of renewable energy at a recovered brownfield or co-located with a farm.

In the category of energy efficiency — which historically has comprised the majority of Colorado’s advanced-energy workforce — jobs range from construction, to union electricians, to sales, to skilled inspectors performing energy-efficiency audits, to site managers utilizing advanced analytic tools to meet a college campus’ energy needs at lower cost.

In Colorado alone, more than 62,000 workers were employed in the advanced energy industry at the end of 2020. That’s more than the number of Coloradans working in hospitals and more than double those in coal, oil, and natural gas combined. These energy projects are being integrated into the local economy in sometimes surprising ways.

For example, the EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel Mill in Pueblo will soon be the first on the continent to rely almost entirely on solar power. The 700,000 solar panels built on-site at the mill are expected to generate $22 million in local revenue and keep the historic mill, which supports about 1,000 jobs, economically viable. 

Federal investment in Colorado’s advanced energy sector—whether in Pueblo or Palisade or elsewhere—would help Colorado build more of these kinds of projects. A recent report prepared by Analysis Group for Advanced Energy Economy found that a $25 billion investment in Colorado’s advanced energy businesses would deliver a six-fold return on investment, adding $157 billion to Colorado’s economy.

The report also found that support for advanced energy technologies, like wind, solar, battery storage, and efficiency would create 1 million new jobs. And, because these technologies would make the dollars we spend heating and cooling our homes go even further, these investments would lead to energy system improvements that would save hardworking Coloradans $7 billion in energy costs per year.

We can get these investments for Colorado through the Build Back Better plan, which is being considered right now by Congress. Our state’s nation-leading policy, world-class innovation hubs, and business-friendly environment already give Colorado an edge as the best place to live, work, and play in the West. The Build Back Better plan would provide a critical down payment on advanced electricity and transportation systems for Colorado that would help our state realize the economic benefits of our ambitious state policies

Doubling down on clean-energy solutions is also an insurance plan for the future. With chronic drought, worsening wildfires, and extreme weather events already impacting livelihoods, public safety, and local budgets across the state, it’s prudent that public investment ensures our economy is set up to welcome transitioning workers from all backgrounds, as well as the next generation of workers, to Colorado’s vibrant advanced-energy sector with good pay, economic mobility, and job security.


The technology to transform our electric grid, affordably heat and cool our homes and businesses, and modernize our transportation systems already exists. Investing in it will create millions of jobs, protect reliable energy for households and businesses, and save Colorado families billions.

The bipartisan infrastructure deal struck in the Senate is a good start, and Congress should use subsequent bills, like the upcoming budget reconciliation, to go all-in on investments that pay off for Coloradans and the American people. Let’s build Colorado and America back better together through the advanced energy sector. 

Emilie Olson, recently of Denver and now a resident of Oakland, Calif., is the Colorado policy manager at Advanced Energy Economy, a Washington, D.C.-based national association of more than 100 businesses.

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