Sunshine brightens Denver museum’s public image

By Elizabeth Stortroen

From the ground, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science looks much like any other museum in the country.

But from the air, you can see the 465 solar panels installed on its roof, and you soon realize that the museum has become emblematic of investment in the new energy economy.

A packed wing of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science listens to President Obama deliver his economic recovery speech.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

So it was only fitting that Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter offer the museum as a backdrop for President Barack
Obama’s signing of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The stimulus package designates $78.6 billion — about 10 percent of the total — for development of clean energy, energy efficiency and green transportation.

Boulder-based Namaste Solar, among other companies, installed the museum’s solar panels about a year ago. These panels are able to offset more than 135 tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is equivalent to planting 11,500 trees. The solar panels alone also can generate 134,500-kilowatt hours of electricity a year — enough to power 30 homes.

And the panels were shown off in presidential style on Tuesday.

Laura Holtman, public relations manager for the museum, said there’s no question that Obama’s visit is the biggest event in the history of the museum.

“This was a huge honor for us,” Holtman said. “It was thrilling for the museum to be featured in the national spotlight during the president’s visit.”

Holtman said she believes the museum was chosen because the solar array, which has become a teaching
tool to promote green energy, represents the museum’s mission to provide informal science education
for the general public.

President Obama joins Namaste Solar Electric’s President Blake Jones and company employees for a record of this historical event.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Pat Kiely, legislative program director of Environment Colorado, said the museum demonstrates that clean energy can be practical — creating jobs, protecting the environment and keeping the economy

“From homegrown power to solar homes, Governor Ritter and Colorado’s clean energy champs have put us at the center of the president’s national strategy to reboot and rebuild our country’s economy on a clear energy foundation,” Kiely said.

According to Obama’s plan, the $78.6 billion for clean energy will help produce or save 3.5 million jobs and will prevent the dispersion of at least 68 million tons of global warming pollution annually.

Namaste Solar gained national recognition at the bill-signing and was acknowledged as the leading solar company in Colorado. It also installed photovoltaic systems at the Colorado Convention Center, the Governor’s Mansion and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Namaste’s staff has grown from three to 55 people in the past three years, and those numbers are expected to continue to increase, according to CEO Blake Jones.

Jones said that without the stimulus package, Namaste would have faced layoffs, but with the signing of the stimulus bill, the company expects to grow 20 percent this year and 40 percent through 2010.

“Many of our projects have been on hold as a result of uncertainty and instability in capital markets,” Jones said. “The stimulus bill contains provisions that will specifically address the issue, thereby allowing projects to move forward right away and companies like Namaste Solar to begin hiring again.”

Obama told the group gathered at the museum that he hopes Americans will see the good being done at the museum by Namaste Solar and know that such technology can be extended across the country, creating more jobs and helping the environment.

“We are taking a big step down the road to energy independence and laying the groundwork for a new, green energy economy that can create countless wellpaying jobs,” Obama said.