Otterbeck: Sky’s the limit for solar energy in Colorado

Author: Katie Otterbeck - March 16, 2016 - Updated: March 17, 2016

Katie Otterbeck
Katie Otterbeck

Fifteen years ago, flat-screen televisions were a rare luxury item, a smartphone was one with an address book, we kept our music on plastic discs and video chats were a feature in Star Trek episodes. Now there’s widespread use of handheld devices that enable us listen to music, watch videos, talk, text or video-chat with friends or colleagues, while also providing immediate access to a world of information.

Times have changed, and solar power is a case in point. Fifteen years ago, solar was used by a small number of true believers. Now, because of advances in technology and growing economies of scale, solar costs 25 percent of what it cost in 2000.

Solar panels are popping up all over: on homes, businesses, places of worship and government buildings. In his State of the Union address, President Obama summed it up when he said, “Every three weeks, we bring as much solar online as we did in all of 2008.”

Boosting solar energy power production is more urgent than ever. From massive floods to devastating wildfires, dangerous weather is already hitting close to home. Without action to stop climate change, scientists say these extremes — and their impact on Coloradoans — will only get worse.

Achieving a million solar roofs in Colorado would help move our country closer to the national goal of getting 10 percent solar by 2030. This would produce immediate and long-lasting benefits for our environment, including removing 280 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere by 2030 — the equivalent of taking 59 million cars off the road.

More solar isn’t just good for the environment. It’s also good for our economy. Solar is currently the fastest-growing industry in the country, adding 143,000 jobs nationwide in 2013. According to the latest solar jobs census from the Solar Foundation, the solar industry employed nearly 5,000 people in Colorado last year, 887 in Jefferson County alone.

Of course, 30 percent solar is just a sliver of the possible. The state is home to more than 14 million square feet in commercial rooftops that could host solar panels, and it has enough technical potential to meet the state’s energy needs 50 times over, an energy offset that could save these companies $168 million annually on their electricity bills.

We’ve made progress. But we can’t take that progress for granted. Powerful interests, including the fossil fuel industry and electric utilities, are working hard to slow progress. To take solar to the next level, we’ll need a strong commitment from our local, state and national leaders. By adopting a goal of getting a million solar roofs, and working together, we can begin to move Colorado and the nation toward a pollution-free future — a future powered by the sun.

Katie Otterbeck

Katie Otterbeck

Katie Otterbeck is the solar energy advocate for Environment Colorado, an environmental advocacy organization.