Can Colo.'s next governor deliver 100% renewable energy?

Turbines blow in the wind at an Xcel Energy wind farm located on the border of Colorado and Wyoming south of Cheyenne. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Energy employment in Colorado grew by 11 percent in 2017 to a total of nearly 91,000 jobs — lead by the natural gas and energy-efficiency sectors, according to a report by the National Association of State Energy Officials.

The survey of energy companies, which was done in conjunction with the energy think tank the Energy Futures Initiative, said Colorado has “a high concentration energy employment.”

The traditional energy sectors accounted for 3.4 percent of total Colorado employment compared with a national average of 2.3 percent, the report said.

Among the biggest sectors in Colorado are oil and gas with more than 26,000 direct jobs; electric power generation with 25,412 jobs; and 28,412 jobs in transmission distribution and storage.

“Solar makes up the largest segment of employment related to Electric Power Generation, with 7,819 jobs, followed by wind at 7,320 jobs,” the report said.

Total energy efficiency-related jobs increased 7 percent to 32,306 in 2017. This includes workers involved in Energy Star appliance and lighting efficiency programs, traditional heating and air conditioning jobs, high efficiency and renewable heating and cooling, and advanced insulation.

Nationally, more than half the 133,000 jobs added last year were in energy efficiency, according to the report.

For 2018, the companies surveyed anticipated employment growth of about 6 percent, again led by energy efficiency-related jobs.

The biggest jump in energy efficiency in Colorado employment — more than 12 percent — came in Energy Star and efficient lighting.

Hiring in the energy efficiency field was a challenge. “Over the last year, 53.8 percent of energy-related employers in Colorado hired new employees,” the report said. “These employers reported the greatest overall difficulty in hiring workers for jobs in Energy Efficiency.”

While oil-related employment held steady at 13,770, natural gas employment was up 26 percent to 12,409 jobs. Coal-related employment dropped almost 16 percent to 1,918.

Employment in fuels, including biofuels and ethanol, were also down 15 percent to 9,260 jobs.

Among renewable energy sources there were small declines in hydropower and solar employment, which dropped 2.5 percent to 7,819 jobs.

The energy efficiency jobs more than rivaled the traditional fossil fuel jobs in the state and wind and solar generation employment were equal to almost half of Colorado’s fossil fuel jobs.

“The clean energy and energy efficiency sectors that keep pollution out of our air and water already employ more Coloradans than all fossil fuels, so we have a great economic opportunity ahead of us,” Jim Alexee, director of the Sierra Club’s Colorado Chapter.

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