Let’s build clean energy into the recovery

As we start to emerge from the lockdown, all thoughts turn to planning for the long work of recovery.

Garfield Clean Energy stands to be an important player in the local coronavirus response, because clean energy investment creates exactly what we need more of: economic stimulus during the recovery period, and resilience over the long term. In fact, those goals are built into GCE’s mission.

Since 2010, GCE has helped add $42 million to the local economy in the form of solar and energy-efficiency projects and other infrastructure, while sending work to some 350 local contractors and suppliers. The efficiency measures alone are saving Garfield County residents, businesses and local governments $2.4 million a year on their energy bills.

Bottom line, GCE has always been an economic development program, and that’s a valuable skill set at this time. GCE’s programs can put more money in people’s pockets and help retail businesses, restaurants and lodges get back on their feet by lowering their utility bills. It can put people to work weatherizing homes, installing efficient lighting and replacing appliances. It can usher in more local renewable energy production, keeping more dollars circulating in the local economy.

As in the 2008 economic crisis, there’s likely to be a federal stimulus package targeting critical infrastructure. Literally thousands of projects – solar farms, electric vehicle charging stations, grid storage facilities, building efficiency retrofits – are “shovel-ready” investments that will put people to work now and pay for themselves later. These technologies are up to 90% cheaper than they were in 2008, so from a policy and economic perspective they make sense.

Should such federal funding become available, GCE will make sure that a fair share flows to Garfield County. (The launch of GCE was made possible with 2008 stimulus money, so we’re familiar with the process.) We’ll also continue challenging our region to keep up with the clean energy transition because – like other infrastructure such as highways and broadband – it’s essential to remaining economically competitive and diversified.

And the benefits of clean energy investment extend beyond the bottom line.

Resilience is a common refrain in pandemic recovery discussions, as every state, county and community seeks to make itself less vulnerable in the face of future crises. Almost by definition, resilience is a holistic concept – it’s a measure of the stress the entire system can take, from food delivery to finance, from healthcare to housing.

Clean energy is integral to that more resilient system. For starters, it results in a more reliable electric grid. As the 2018 Lake Christine Fire demonstrated, our heavy reliance on imported electrons from distant power plants (or even from distant wind farms) carries risks that don’t appear on any balance sheet. Adding more local renewable power and storage to the mix creates a more decentralized and diversified grid.

Much more significant (especially in light of the current situation) are the health benefits of reducing emissions. Recent photos of city skylines have opened people’s eyes to the pollution that we’d come to accept, and that contributes to the ill health of millions of people. The good news is that we don’t need to shut down our economy to clean the air; transitioning to clean energy achieves the same result. 

A stronger and more resilient local economy, healthier residents and a cleaner environment – the transition to a clean energy economy will bring all these benefits. In these changing times, Garfield Clean Energy will continue to work for that future in this particularly beautiful corner of the world where we live.