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What Will the Green Economy Look Like?


By Adele M. Stan
Media Consortium.
August 23, 2008


We all say we want to go green, but do we all see the same kinds of change when
we imagine an eco-friendly economy?

In Denver, Colo., Tom Plant, director of the Governor's Energy Office, is
practically giddy. It's just days before the Democratic National Convention
kicks off in Colorado's biggest city, and a long-sought goal in Gov. Bill
Ritter's New Energy Economy program has just been met: Vestas, the Danish
wind-turbine manufacturer, has announced its plan to open a new manufacturing
plant just outside the city limits -- its second in the state.

Plant reels off some numbers: 1,350 new jobs at the new Vestas plant; 650
employees already employed at another the Vesta plant that opened last March,
and the prospect of an additional 400 workers at a plant expected to open two
years from now. Colorado now generates more than a gigawatt of energy through
renewable energy sources -- three-quarters of that created in the 18 months
since Plant's boss took office.

And how many people does he expect to arrive with the convention?

"About a gazillion, I think," Plant says, laughing. "Maybe two gazillion."

A cleaner, greener future has long occupied the dreams of progressives. With an
historic "change" election upon us and a crisis in fuel pricing and climate
change, the moment appears at hand for the public to accept profound changes in
our way of life and the very structure of our economy.

Economists and philosophers, community organizers and labor negotiators, all see
in the current crisis an opportunity to create change that reaches beyond the
immediate boon of a cleaner environment. Some look through the green crystal
ball and see new opportunities for industry or a revitalized labor movement.
Others see a new role for government as a change-maker, and still others see a
quantum leap in the evolution of the human soul. As goals, they're not
necessarily mutually exclusive. But the paths imagined by green advocates don't
always converge. Already the sound of dissonance is audible between those who
envision a completely new economic model, and those who seek to work with and
clean up the old one.

Democratic Party officials surely had the "change" theme of this year's
presidential campaign in mind when they chose Colorado to host their convention.
The Colorado legislature swung from its traditional red to blue when Ritter, the
state's first Democratic governor in 50 years to enjoy a legislative majority,
rode into office in 2006, promising a new and vibrant state economy that
capitalized on the crisis of global climate change.

Ritter's New Energy Economy plan got a jump start before he was even elected,
with the passage of a ballot measure in 2004 that called for the state's
utilities to bring the level of renewable energy sources in their portfolios up
to 10 percent by the year 2015. Executives at Xcel Energy, the state's largest
utility, protested loudly, then went on to meet the standard eight years ahead
of schedule. This year, Xcel's lobbyists urged a doubling of the standard.

While Colorado's mandate for renewable sources from its energy providers may
have caught the attention of Vestas and other green technology companies, Plant
sees something much bigger in their expansion. "When a company like Vestas
locates 2,500 jobs in Colorado, it's not to feed an entirely Colorado demand; I
mean, they're looking at the entire country," Plant says.

Plant isn't alone in seeing an opportunity to improve the economic fortunes of
everyday Americans in the climate crisis.

Carla Din, Western field director of the Apollo Alliance, doesn't think she's
asking for much: all she wants is a raft of green energy projects in California
that build partnerships between organized labor, developers, environmentalists,
social justice advocates and government. The Apollo Alliance seeks to build
coalitions among interests that often conflict -- such as labor and business --
with a focus on meeting the needs of a green economy.

 

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