While looking out over the open space in Huerfano County, it is possible to come across a field of massive wind turbines. Known as the Peak View Wind Project, the turbines were erected in November of 2016 with two priorities in mind: save consumers of Black Hills Energy money and help Black Hills Energy progress toward compliance with Colorado’s voter-led Renewable Energy Standard (RES).
“The project allows Black Hills Energy to reduce the amount of natural gas it burns, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 2.4 million tons,” wrote Senior Energy Policy Advisor Gwen Farnsworth when the Peak View Wind Project had been given the green light. “Additionally, in the first 20 years of Peak View Wind’s operation, customers are expected to save over $37 million.”
In 2004 Colorado began to count itself among the leaders in renewable energy with deep investments in wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, small hydroelectric, and other renewable energy resources increasing regularly over the last decade. That was the year the state passed the RES, the first such voter-led standard in the nation, which required electric utilities to obtain a percentage of their power from renewable energy sources. Since 2004, the state legislature has increased the minimum requirements three times, which has spurred the development of hundreds of renewable energy projects across the state, including the Peak View Wind Project.
Aside from saving energy consumers money, the wind turbines in Southern Colorado have been a major factor in the area’s economic growth.
“Our community is built on manufacturing, but we are moving that towards advanced manufacturing. A good example of that is the Vestas manufacturing of the wind turbines,” said Susan Fries, economic development specialist, Pueblo County Economic Development and Geographic Information Systems. “And the companies that produce for them, as well.”
Vestas has provided a boost to the local economy by adding job growth and consumer spending. Something that may not have happened, had it not been for the state’s dedication to renewable energy.
“With Colorado’s commitment to growing its renewable energy industry and highly qualified workforce, it was a win-win to base our North American manufacturing operations here,” said Anthony Knapp, vice president of Vestas Towers America Inc., in a release. “There were other locations considered for our North American manufacturing operations base, but none were as committed to our industry’s growth and success than Colorado.”
To this day, renewable energy continues providing substantial benefits to Colorado, including new electric generation that reduces the energy sector’s impact on public health and the environment; insulating costumers from volatile fuel prices; diversifying the state’s electricity portfolio and increasing the resiliency of the electrical grid; and supporting jobs and economic development.
With wind being one of Colorado’s constants, it is not a surprise that it accounts for the largest percent of renewable generation in Colorado, with more than 17 percent of total electricity generated in the state in 2016. By the most recent data available, Colorado is ranked 11 in the national for installed solar capacity, with 926 megawatts installed as of 2016.
“It’s becoming an increasingly diverse market,” said Jeremy Trimble, 37, whose capital management firm includes members of several renewable energy companies. “It was just wind and solar for a while, but now companies are developing other renewable resources. They keep diversifying, which keeps the electricity portfolio growing and allows for more options and less costs.”
Though the industry continues to diversify, technological innovation and the reduction in manufacturing costs have positioned wind and solar resources as the most prolific and cost competitive renewable resources on the market. Wind energy, in particular, has become the lease cost resource for utilities building new electric generation.