Tech, business coalition releases report pegging Colorado’s economic recovery on clean-energy future

Source: By Judith Kohler, Denver Post • Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2020

Group of technology and business leaders says Colorado should capitalize on inevitable move from fossil fuels

A coalition of technology and business leaders says investing in renewable energy and electric vehicles is not only the path to combating climate change, but also a way to bolster Colorado’s economy once the pandemic recedes.

The Signal Tech Coalition, which publicly launched earlier this year, released a report Wednesday that details what it sees as the economic benefits of moving from energy generated by fossil fuels to wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources. The organization supports private-public partnerships and investing state money in the nonprofit Colorado Clean Energy Fund, started under the John Hickenlooper administration to leverage private dollars.

The group also suggests updating regulations to keep up with changes in the industry and consumer demands.

“Fossil fuels got us to where we are today, however our nation and state’s competitive advantage rests firmly in our ability to innovate, and there is a better energy future and economy at our doorstep,” the coalition said in the report.

Gov. Jared Polis included $40 million in his budget proposal released in November for clean-energy finance programs “to position Colorado to seize the economic benefits of the new energy economy to help with the recovery and ensure that we build our economy back better from the recent downturn.”

People in the tech industry want to be part of the effort to address climate and change, said Quinn Antus, the coalition’s executive director. “Policy is really the only lever that’s significant enough to make the change needed in time.”

The group’s goal is to leverage the tech industry’s economic importance in Colorado to advocate for renewable energy, electric vehicles and making the state a clean-tech “powerhouse in the next two decades.” Members include representatives from the Zayo Group, Denver Startup Week, the Techstars accelerator in Boulder and Tom Virden, an entrepreneur who was involved with the early development of Apple products.

“As the tech and economic leaders of the state, we are here to say we not only want this because we want to help the planet,” Antus said. “We want to make sure that we’re putting our money in the best possible place and that’s getting ahead of where our economy’s already going.”

The coalition’s report notes that the cost of solar and wind energy have dropped significantly in the past decade and is much cheaper than coal.

As lawmakers have set goals for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy, Colorado remains one of the top oil- and gas-producing states.

The oil and gas industry has lost many jobs during the pandemic and recession, but still employs thousands of people. The industry contributes $31 billion to the Colorado economy, including about $1 billion in state and local taxes, industry representatives estimate.

Sam Shriver,  the tech coalition’s strategy and content director, said it’s important to make sure there are resources to help workers and communities make the transition to a clean-tech economy.

Duvall and other agricultural leaders had already started engaging the Biden transition team on different challenges facing farmers.

“Together, we must prepare to tackle a new farm bill and build on efforts to create a fair marketplace for U.S. agriculture to compete globally. It is essential we ensure climate policies respect farmers and remain market-based and voluntary. And, we must end the digital divide that puts rural America at a disadvantage.

“Tom Vilsack earned a reputation for rising above partisanship to serve farmers and ranchers, and I’m confident he’ll continue to do so. The American Farm Bureau stands ready to support Tom and work closely with him knowing his success as secretary of agriculture correlates directly with America’s farmers and ranchers, as well as our rural communities, having the support they need to flourish.”

United Fresh Produce Association CEO Tom Stenzel said his group had worked with Vilsack in the past to broaden access to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially for children.

“There is no shortage of issues to work on over the next four years — from trade to climate change,” Stenzel said. “Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that we have experienced leaders who can hit the ground running to ensure that there is a seamless transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration, including making sure that the supply chain is utilized to address the immense and immediate food insecurity needs being faced around the country — and there is no one more familiar with how to make USDA work for the American people than Tom Vilsack.”

Biofuel groups including the Renewable Fuels Association and the American Coalition for Ethanol also issued statements congratulating Vilsack on the nomination.

“Secretary Vilsack was the most effective advocate the biofuels industry had in the Obama administration and we are excited about working with him again, particularly with helping get the RFS back on track, continued infrastructure support for higher ethanol blends, and making sure farmers and biofuel producers are part of the solution to future policies designed to tackle climate change,” said Brian Jennings CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) CEO Colin Woodall said Vilsack “has the unique skill set to be able to hit the ground running on day one, and cattle producers are thankful for this continuity. Secretary Vilsack knows the issues facing America’s cattle producers and can utilize his extensive experience to showcase the positive impact we have on food security, nutrition, and our natural resources. We look forward to working with him for the betterment of beef farmers and ranchers.”

Howard “AV” Roth, president of the National Pork Producers Council, and a farmer from Wauzeka, Wisconsin, noted Vilsack comes from Iowa, the top pork-producing state in the country. Roth pointed out issues important to pork producers right now, including expanding exports and strengthening biosecurity at the U.S. borders to ensure African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases are kept out of the country.

National Association of Wheat Growers President and Cass City, Michigan, wheat farmer Dave Milligan said Vilsack understands policies important to wheat. Milligan added Vilsack also was willing in his earlier tenure to meet with and listen to farmers and other stakeholders about USDA programs and regulations.

“Former Secretary Vilsack’s wealth of experience and his knowledge of agriculture are important attributes for this role,” Milligan said.

Groups such as the Humane Society stated Vilsack had worked to regulate puppy breeders and prohibit the slaughter of downer calves, as well as worked to strengthen animal-welfare standards on organic farmers But Sara Admundson, legislative fund president for the Humane Society, said Vilsack was “too deferential to Big Ag and factory farming — a striking cause of climate change and a root problem for farm animal welfare. We’ll be asking him to confront the worst elements of intensive confinement agriculture and related challenges.”

Other groups, such as Friends of the Earth, said they were “deeply disappointed” in Biden choosing Vilsack, describing the former secretary as an “agribusiness lobbyist” because of his current job as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

“We hope that Secretary Vilsack has learned from his checkered first term at the USDA and will this time take on the agribusiness lobby that dominates the agency,” said Kari Hamerschlag, a deputy director for Friends of the Earth. “In order to implement Biden’s climate and racial justice agenda, Vilsack must be willing to transform the USDA to support a more diversified, regenerative, healthy and just food system. He must ensure economic justice for independent and BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color] farmers, protections for food workers, and access to healthy food for every American.”

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com