Study finds renewable energy has created 6,300 jobs and generates $388.6 million a year in economic activity in eastern rural Colorado, which has 55% of the state’s solar arrays

By Wayne Heilman Colorado Springs Gazette, Jul 28, 2020 Updated Aug 6, 2020

The renewable energy industry has created 6,334 jobs and generates $388.6 million a year in economic activity in eastern Colorado, according to a study released Tuesday by three Colorado advocacy groups.

The study from The Western Way, a Denver-based conservative environmental group, was conducted by Littleton-based Development Research Partners. It found $9.4 billion will have been spent on utility-scale renewable energy projects in 15 eastern Colorado counties between 2000 and 2024. The study analyzed 40 projects, including seven in development or under construction set for completion by 2024. Other study sponsors include Action 22, an advocacy group for 22 southern Colorado counties, and Pro 15, an advocacy group for 15 northeastern Colorado counties.

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“This economic impact study is important on two fronts for eastern Colorado, said Greg Brophy, The Western Way’s Colorado director and a former state representative and senator from eastern Colorado. “First, it quantifies the benefits that the region receives for its part in generating the vast majority of Colorado’s renewable energy, of which the importance cannot by understated. Lastly, this report should be a call for counties on the eastern plains without any projects to roll out the welcome mat.”

Nearly 20%, or 1,132, of the renewable energy jobs the report found in the 15 counties are in El Paso County at 194 businesses. More than 80% of those jobs and nearly 90% of the companies in the county are in research and testing labs or environmental and scientific consulting services firms. More than 60% of the jobs in the 15-county area are at three manufacturers of wind energy equipment, primarily at Vestas manufacturing plants in Pueblo and Windsor.

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All of Colorado’s wind farms and 55% of the state’s solar arrays are located in the 15 counties. By year’s end, those facilities will generate nearly 5,000 megawatts of power and another 1,100 megawatts will be added as projects now planned or under construction are completed during the next four years, including the state’s two largest solar arrays and its first battery storage project.

The economic impact of renewable energy project construction in eastern Colorado between 2000 and 2024 totals nearly $6 billion, accounting for nearly 13,000 jobs from both construction workers and their spending. Operations and maintenance of renewable projects generates $388.6 million in economic activity annually and employs 352 people with their spending creating jobs for another 737 people. The ongoing economic impact includes lease payments to land owners and property tax payments to counties, cities, school districts and special districts.

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In El Paso County, NextEra Energy Resources built a wind farm and solar array near Calhan and another solar array is under construction southeast of Colorado Springs. City-owned Colorado Springs Utilities plans to shut down its Martin Drake coal plant in downtown Colorado Springs by 2023 and eventually replace that generating capacity with power from wind, solar and battery storage.

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