Colorado’s alternative energy economy boosted by wind and biofuels

Source: By Aldo Svaldi, Denver Post • Posted: Friday, August 10, 2018

Advanced energy job gains slowed last year, but should recover in 2018

Andy Cross, The Denver Post. Giant Vestas wind turbine blades loaded on a train awaiting delivery at the plant April 12, 2016.

Mention alternative energy, and rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles may come to mind. But in Colorado, a disproportionate share of jobs in that emerging part of the economy are tied to wind turbines and biofuels, according to a new report from the business group Advanced Energy Economy.

The alternative energy sector, or what the industry is now calling advanced energy, employs 3.2 million people in the United States, including 62,800 people in Colorado, a number close to Grand Junction’s population, according to the report.

The biggest category in Colorado and across the country involves energy efficiency, with the bulk of those jobs on the installation side, i.e. construction trades, and to a lesser degree in research and manufacturing, i.e. Denver-based Johns Manville.

Energy efficiency employment accounts for 32,000 jobs or 51 percent of the total in advanced energy in Colorado. Nationally, the share is closer to 62 percent, a difference that can be explained by Colorado having a higher share of workers in power generation, said Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for AEE.

About 30 percent of the state’s advanced energy jobs, or 18,600, are tied to electricity generation, while the share nationally is about 20 percent, she said. In that regard, Colorado is similar to California, where the ratio is around 33 percent.

But within power generation, Colorado’s workforce blows heavily toward wind. The state has 7,800 workers in solar and 7,300 in wind, thanks to three manufacturing plants that Danish turbine maker Vestas Wind Systems owns in the state.

By contrast, California has 138,000 in solar and 5,000 in wind. Nationally, there are three jobs in solar for every job in wind generation, Hanis said.

The group’s definition of advanced energy isn’t limited to renewable sources. It also includes natural gas and nuclear, pretty much anything other than coal, oil, gasoline and diesel.

Colorado really stands out when it comes to biofuels. The state has 5,900 workers involved in making fuels from corn and biomass. That category represents 9 percent of advanced energy employment versus only a 2.8 percent concentration nationally, said Phil Jordan, vice president at BW Research in Wrentham, Mass., and the report’s author.

After years of strong gains, advanced energy employment only grew 3 percent last year in Colorado, in line with the larger economy.

“Solar set things back. Solar had its first decline nationally in 10 years,” said Jordan.

The report estimates Colorado will see an 8-percent gain this year in advanced energy jobs, assuming employers can find the workers they need and tariffs on solar panel and steel imports don’t derail installations.

About 54 percent of employers in Colorado said it is “very difficult” to find qualified candidates for advanced energy jobs, which outnumber hospital-related jobs and are three times the number of agriculture jobs.

Of the advanced energy jobs in the state, 12,200 are in Denver County, 8,000 in Arapahoe County, 6,700 in Jefferson County and 5,300 each in El Paso and Adams counties.