The promise of cleantech: Coalition promotes growing industry

Atlasta Solar Center in Grand Junction installs photovoltaic panels on homes and businesses across Western Colorado. Atlasta Solar is part of what’s seen as a growing industry sector in the Grand Valley in companies whose products and services produce clean energy, conserve energy and in turn curb climate change. (Photo courtesy Atlasta Solar Center)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Ken Scissors sees what he considers the conspicuous signs of a growing clean technology industry in the Grand Valley. There’s the increased use of solar energy and decreased costs of installations. There are the energy efficient residential and commercial developments that have been constructed or are planned. And there’s the additional awareness of measures — and companies — that advance sustainability while curbing climate change.

“You don’t need a very magical crystal ball,” Scissors.

Jim Marshall sees the same things he says position the Grand Valley to nurture cleantech and in turn diversify the economy.

Scissors and Marshall lead the Grand Junction Cleantech Business Coalition and the efforts of the organization to promote the industry. Doing so, they hope, will do for the cleantech industry what similar endeavors have done for the outdoor recreation industry.

“We’re trying to shine a light on what legitimately should be a target target industry,” says Scissors, a retired physician who developed a residential area in the Redlands area of Grand Junction emphasizing sustainable construction techniques and landscaping.

Marshall works as executive vice president of Raven Ridge Resources, a Grand Junction-based consulting company company involved with coal methane development and carbon emission reduction projects.

The Cleantech Business Coalition was launched about two years ago after what Scissors says were two eye-opening events: a cleantech summit that included a presentation on the number of jobs in the sector and local efforts to promote the outdoor recreation industry.

“The way to pull all this together  was to get behind the cleantech movement,” Scissors says.

While there’s not yet a formal designation or definition, Scissors and Marshall say cleantech includes companies whose products or services involve renewable energy, energy efficiency or clean fuels and transportation. The sector includes everything from solar energy and wind turbine manufacturers and installers to construction contractors that build energy efficient homes and buildings.

In addition, the sector includes consulting firms and other businesses that provide products and services to cleantech companies. In an even broader sense, the sector includes companies with energy efficient and environmentally friendly operations.

For that matter, sustainability has become an increasingly important attribute for companies in all sectors, Scissors and Marshall say.

The Grand Junction Cleantech Business Coalition has about 20 members, Scissors and Marshall say, in business owners, employees and others interested in promoting the sector in the Grand Valley and Western Colorado. The coalition meets monthly and also hosts webinars and other  events, including a clean jobs summit.

Scissors says he expects cleantech to play an increasingly prominent role as efforts ramp up to curb climate change.

Locally, the use of solar energy has increased even as the cost of photovoltaic panels has decreased, he says. Builders increasingly incorporate energy efficient designs, construction techniques and materials into their work.

Energy efficient residential and commercial developments have been constructed or are planned, he says. That includes plans to convert what was formerly a Startek call center in downtown Grand Junction into a multi-family housing development using solar power and other technologies to limit the carbon footprint.

As the cleantech sector grows, so will employment, he says. “This is just going to create a flood of jobs.”

That, in turn, will help to diversify the local economy. “The opportunities are tremendous.”

Some measures are needed, though, to nurture cleantech, Scissors says.

It’s important to develop a work force to meet the needs of cleantech companies. That requires education and training for students in Mesa County School District 51, Western Colorado Community College and Colorado Mesa University, he says.

Scissors also called on Mesa County to participate in the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program that helps businesses pay for renewable energy and efficiency upgrades by providing financing with long-term repayment options. Mesa County is the only qualifying county in Western Colorado that doesn’t offer C-PACE financing, he says.

In addition, cleantech should be designated a targeted sector for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and other economic development and business organizations to recruit, he says.

Scissors and Marshall say there are conspicuous signs of a growing cleantech sector in the Grand Valley.  It’s a matter, they say, of nurturing that growth.

For more information about the Grand Junction Cleantech Business Coalition, visit the website at https://cleantechcoalition.com.  For more information about Atlasta Solar, visit the website at https://atlastasolar.com.