Ritter touts state's new energy gains for Senate panel

By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Gov. Bill Ritter found a new audience for his new energy economy message on Tuesday, as he told a U.S. Senate panel in Washington, D.C., that Colorado’s success in attracting new energy jobs should make it a model for the nation.

Ritter told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy that Denmark-based Vestas, which manufactures components for wind turbines, will employ 2,500 people when all four of its Colorado plants are up and running.

Reporters heard a recording of Ritter’s testimony in a press call, then Ritter and fellow Colorado Democrat U.S. Sen. Mark Udall fielded questions.

The governor testified that Colorado’s new energy economy has created about 3,000 jobs so far, which has helped keep the state’s unemployment at 7.6 percent, a rate about two points below the national average and lower than the unemployment rate in 30 other states.

Ritter joined Governors Christine Gregoire, D-Washington; Jon Corzine, D-New Jersey; and John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, in presenting testimony.

In the testimony, Ritter said his new energy economy is “creating new jobs, attracting new companies and leading the way to a new energy future for America.”

“This didn’t happen by accident,” he said, giving Udall, himself, and Colorado voters credit for their “concerted and aggressive effort” over the past few years.

Vestas, the world’s largest wind-turbine manufacturer, with a 28 percent market share, will build the world’s largest wind tower plant in Pueblo. Vestas put a blade and nacelle plant in Windsor in 2008, and Ritter says it will put two more in Brighton. Among these four plants, 2,500 jobs will be created and $700 million in capital will come into Colorado’s economy.

Farmers earn up to $10,000 yearly for each turbine they allow in their fields.

“One farmer in southeastern Colorado has 112 turbines and is making $45,000,” Ritter said.

Ritter also noted that new Colorado production facilities opened by Abound Solar and Ascent Solar have “hired hundreds of new green workers.”

A new wind farm in Burlington that’s still in the blueprint stage will create 150 construction jobs. Wind on the Kansas border will provide 51 megawatts and power 12,000 to 14,000 homes. It is not yet known if Vestas will provide the farm with the 34 turbines and nacelles it will require.

The 2004 adoption of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which Ritter doubled in 2007, mandates that 20 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy by 2020. Ritter also issued the first Climate Action Plan in Colorado, which requires a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent cut by 2050.

Ritter said a law that lets residents sell excess electricity back to their utility companies also strengthens Colorado’s position in the energy economy.

“We are diversifying our energy portfolio and doing all we can to increase demand for Colorado-produced natural gas,” Ritter said.

Udall weighed in, noting, “Oil shale is unlikely to pay off in the way we need it. We are going to work hard on a natural gas title that will help us take advantage of our natural gas.”

Ritter said the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which is designed to reduce greenhouse emissions 17 percent by 2020, gives “short shrift to natural gas.” He said more attention should be paid to the relatively cleaner carbon-burning fuel.

“There is a fear of job losses as a result of Waxman-Markey,” he added.

In future terms, Ritter said he is educating students on “how to succeed in green jobs” through his P-20 Education Council and Jobs Cabinet.

The P-20 Council gathers community leaders in an effort to improve the quality of education to make graduates more employable.

Ritter’s Jobs Cabinet, which is split into five regional subcommittees, offers outreach meetings to identify key economic sectors and drivers within communities.

The governor said Colorado will be one of the few states with a “completely aligned education system” from kindergarten to graduate school offering classes on such 21st century industries as renewable energy.

The Colorado First job training program, which Ritter said he strengthened this year, lets leaders in green industries give community colleges tips on the best ways to train students for new energy jobs.

Ritter also has issued a new “Green Job” handbook that outlines the curriculum and degrees required for green jobs and listing green jobs available in Colorado.

“Energy independence is not a pipe dream,” Ritter said in his written testimony to the Senate committee.

The governor said the strong partisan sentiments expressed in the Senate committee hearing made it different from meetings of the Western governors, where governors work through their party differences to address climate and energy issues.

Lucy@coloradostatesman.com