Colorado experiences solar industry boom  

The Colorado sun is shining brightly on the solar power industry. New evidence indicates that Colorado solar companies are undergoing major expansions and that the Centennial State is tilting closer to renewable energy.

This week, the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit solar education and research organization, released the results of a “Solar Census.” The results point to major growth in Colorado’s solar industry and evidence that the state’s aggressive renewable energy standard is working. In fact, the report indicates that Colorado solar providers are expecting to increase their employment by an average of 23 percent by the end of 2011.  

Durango-based Four Corners Solar is one example of that industry growth. During the next three years, the company plans to grow its projects exponentially – ¼ megawatt installed this year, 1 megawatt next year and 4 megawatts the year after that. Four Corners Solar is also planning to quickly and dramatically increase the size of its team to meet these goals.  

“It is an exciting time for us,” said Chris Dippold, managing member of Four Corners Solar. “Our vision is to grow our staff, the number of projects and the size of projects.”

The report was by no means limited to Colorado and included data from more than 2,400 solar company survey respondents nationwide. More than half of these employers plan to increase their workforce in the next year. At the same time, traditional fossil fuel energy companies are expected to shrink their workforces by 2 percent. Colorado remains at the forefront of the nation in terms in solar-powered employment.

“Thanks to smart policy and entrepreneurship, Colorado is now No. 2 in the nation in solar jobs per capita,” said Neal Lurie, executive director of Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “Solar is a job-creating, economy-boosting technology that is putting Coloradans back to work.”

The National Solar Jobs Census was conducted by The Solar Foundation and Green LMI Consulting with technical assistance from Cornell University.

Active transit count begins in Durango 

Durango is getting on the fast lane to alternative transportation. Thanks to a partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation and Kaiser Permanente Colorado, active transportation could grow locally and throughout the state.  

Kaiser Permanente recently awarded $50,000 to CDOT to increase and improve its new bicycle/pedestrian counting program. The funding purchased six new counters and one of them found its way to one of Durango’s hairiest bicycle/pedestrian corridors – North Main Ave.

“Data collected from each counter will be used to support decision making, as well as future policies and plans that accommodate biking and walking,” said Betsy Jacobsen, CDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Unit Manager. “Additionally, a portion of the funding will be used toward development of data storage and education.”   

The hope is that this new program will help reduce congestion and improve air quality by getting more people to walk and bike to their destinations.

Previously, CDOT collected this type of information only for motorized traffic. As time goes on, the counts will also help measure whether or not bicycle usage has increased in areas where there have been improvements in the infrastructure.  

When the count has concluded, CDOT will provide its findings to local governments and agencies with an interest. This will increase the knowledge base and help lead decisions around active transportation.

 “CDOT asked our opinion on a location for this counter, and together we are looking at developing a plan for relevant bike routes on state highway right of way,” said Mary Monroe, director of Trails 2000. “One of our goals is to promote connectivity on roads, paths and trails, and this research will help.”

Monroe added that a campaign called “Go for the Gold” is under way to elevate Durango from a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community to a gold. “CDOT’s involvement will be instrumental in elevating that status,” she said.  

Court smiles on Gunnison’s prairie dog

A longtime resident of the region may be looking at a slightly more hopeful future. A federal judge recently ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its decision not to list the Gunnison’s prairie dog as endangered at lower elevations.

The judge’s decision noted documentation of a 98 percent decline in the area occupied by Gunnison’s prairie dogs – from 24 million acres in 1916 to 500,000 or fewer acres in 2008. The prairie habitat of the Four Corners region accounts for 60 to 65 percent of Gunnison’s prairie dog’s remaining range.

The judge’s decision came as the result of a petition by 75 separate groups and agencies that charged that the Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it only recognized the Gunnison’s prairie dog as endangered only in the mountainous and not prairie portions of its range.

“We’re pleased by this decision, as the Gunnison’s prairie dog is imperiled across its range and desperately needs the safeguards of the Endangered Species Act,” stated Nicole Rosmarino, of WildEarth Guardians. “The Service needs to step up for this species, which has dwindled by 98 percent in less than a century.”

Prairie dogs are considered keystone species by scientists, since they serve as prey for a large variety of carnivores. Prairie dog burrows also provide homes to burrowing animals, and more than 150 wildlife species have been shown to benefit from the existence of prairie dogs.

The petition chronicled a variety of threats to the species, including extermination efforts; sylvatic plague; oil and gas development; and urban sprawl.

– Will Sands




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