Colorado finds renewed energy in stimulus package
The Denver Post
Colorado’s nationally acclaimed renewable-energy sector could get a second wind from green provisions in the economic stimulus bill to be signed today in Denver by President Barack Obama.
Alternative-energy firms said they hope the measure will help finance projects that have been slowed or placed at risk because of economic weakness.
The White House chose Colorado for the bill signing in part because the state is a leader in renewable-energy research and manufacturing.
The Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory is considered one of the nation’s pre-eminent research facilities.
Solar-energy firms with headquarters or significant operations in Colorado include Abengoa, Ascent, Ausra, AVA, PrimeStar, SkyFuel and SunEdison.
Vestas, the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines, operates a major plant in Windsor and is developing new facilities in Brighton and Pueblo.
Xcel Energy has designated Boulder as the nation’s first “Smart Grid City.” The utility will spend up to $100 million for a program that will allow it to better manage power consumption.
Despite the state’s pedigree in alternative energy, the industry, in Colorado and across the nation, is struggling with a tight credit market that has dimmed its bright prospects.
More than $80 billion of the $787 billion stimulus bill is earmarked for energy ” both for renewables and improvements in conventional-energy systems.
Millions in credits, grants
Colorado is expected to receive $130 million in direct appropriations for energy-related projects, and millions more in tax credits and yet-unidentified research and development grants for which Colorado and other states will compete.
The direct appropriations to Colorado include $81.1 million over two years for weatherizing low-income homes and $49.1 million to fund a variety of public- and private-sector energy programs, according to a U.S. Senate analysis of the stimulus bill.
New energy-related spending and tax credits nationwide are expected to create from 500,000 to 1.7 million jobs.
“It’s going to be a real shot in the arm,” said Tom Plant, director of the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office. “There are going to be plenty of opportunities for homeowners and businesses.”
Plant said lending and loan-guarantee provisions in the bill could help about 20 mid-scale solar-energy projects in Colorado that have been delayed or suspended by lack of commercial financing.
Littleton-based Ascent Solar Technologies is bullish on prospects for sun-fueled energy, but was wondering how it would finance the full buildout of a new solar-panel manufacturing plant and headquarters in Thornton.
The answer, in part, may come from the stimulus bill, said Ashutosh Misra, senior vice president at Ascent, which is gearing up for production of thin-film, flexible solar panels .
The project’s $110 million first phase already has been funded, but the remaining $140 million needed for full buildout has been uncertain with tight credit markets, he said.
The stimulus plan could help Ascent’s effort to find loans in lieu of issuing new shares that would dilute existing equity in the company.
“Even a little push can make a lot of difference,” Misra said.
The Ascent plant will employ up to 180 at full operation, projected by the end of 2011.
A pipeline of projects
Beltsville, Md.-based SunEdison, which in 2007 built one of the nation’s largest solar-generating facilities near Alamosa, is looking to the stimulus bill to keep its pipeline of Colorado projects going.
They include projects in Alamosa and Rifle and a major solar-energy station at NREL.
Until passage of the bill, SunEdison’s 2009 business projections “certainly were much dimmer than last year,” said Rick Gilliam, the firm’s Colorado-based managing director of policy. “But we think the package will help us a lot to continue on track.”
Colorado State University is counting on the stimulus bill to preserve several public-private research projects.
One of them is “Fort Zed,” a collaboration with the city of Fort Collins and the Department of Energy to make buildings in the area zero-energy users through a combination of renewable generation and energy efficiency.
“We see the stimulus package as providing very significant incentives for research,” said Bill Farland, CSU’s senior vice president of research. “We think it will stimulate the leadership role that Colorado has had.”