Building Jobs With Renewable Energy

Companies are investing billions in renewable energy projects.

October 3, 2008, 4:46 PM

DENVER, Oct. 4, 2008— -- Just a few years ago, Bob Erbelding was building homes in Colorado. But he never thought he'd be building wind turbines.

Erbelding, 50, who works for the Denmark-based Vestas American Wind Technology, the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines, says his business is part of an energy revolution that's changing the environment and the face of American industry.

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"I used to be a contractor, but the housing business really sloughed off and I was looking for a meaningful job that would supply my family with a good income and great benefits," he said.

Colorado is considered a global leader in the industry of renewable energy.

"The baton is being handed off from the traditional 19th and 20th century industries," said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. "The baton is being handed off to a 21st century industry: Renewables."

Wind, solar and geothermal energy sources are gaining unprecedented ground, not just as environmentally sound concepts, but as booming green industries.

Roby Roberts, the vice president of Vestas, said that, by 2010, his company will have invested $600 million in turbine manufacturing plants like the one in Windsor, Colo.

"We're breaking all-time records right now," said Roberts. "I think people are starting to wake up and say, 'Wow, this is really for real.'"

"We have made [renewable energy] our signature piece in Colorado from a business perspective," Ritter said. "This country has such potential to build-out a renewable energy industry. And we have so much potential to increase the kinds of jobs that can be associated with it."

Vestas will employ 2,500 people at four factories in Colorado by 2010. For small towns like Windsor, it's a windfall. In less than a decade, the global industry of renewable energy is projected to explode from a $150-billion-a-year industry to a $600-billion-a-year industry.

"We're at a tipping point in terms of infrastructure and in terms of commitment to really changing the way our future energy economy will grow," said Dan Arvizu, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

"I think that this is the thing we must do," said Ritter. "Renewable energy is the trifecta. It helps us with energy security. It helps us really think about environmental issues and climate issues. And at the end of the day, you build an economy around it. We call it the 'New Energy Economy.'"

In the face of the nation's worst drop on Wall Street and the collapse of major financial institutions, this "new economy" continues to pour jobs into small towns across states like Colorado, giving hope to millions.

"I think that's compelling to many people," said Arvizu. "I think people start talking about 'green jobs.' That is actually a real effect and I think that's what's driving a grass roots effort around renewable energy."

But the renewables industry can't go it alone.

Roberts says that the United States needs to build major transmissions to get all this power to market, and a reasonable climate policy must be created.

"In Europe and most places, there's a minimum standard for renewables," said Roberts. "It's called the Renewable Energy Standard. We see that as something that really sets the market floor. That would tell the industry: 'Here's what the U.S. is committed to. Build so we can make that.'"

Roberts said the industry has friends on both sides of the aisle, and he believes real understanding is beginning to emerge in Washington.

Arvizu said it was just a matter of time.

"I told our staff it's taken us 30 years to become an overnight success," he said. "The people who've been part of these programs for the past three decades have felt as though they've kept the pilot light on while the rest of the world kind of caught up with what the real value is and the real opportunities these technologies actually produce."