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Colorado’s Got Blue Skies Ahead

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Colorado becoming a haven for businesses transitioning toward a sustainable future

In the past, industries including but not limited to oil, agriculture, construction, and the traditional automotive industry have had an outsized role in pollution throughout the world. But there’s good news: these industries are evolving into clean, future-looking businesses dedicated to setting high sustainable standards for their products and processes. This movement came about as more and more Americans, organizations, and government entities began to push for cleaner standards that protect our environment, our food supply, and our country. 

There’s a myth that traditional, long-standing industries would simply vanish as the wave of new clean energy technology took over. As we see now, that myth is not a reality. Many new technologies are instead breathing life into these established industries, spreading inspiration and innovative hope for the future. One state that leads the way in incentivizing business transformations is Colorado. The Centennial State is where some of the biggest former polluters are going solar, and farming is emerging as more sustainable than ever.

Colorado Fuel and Iron was founded in 1892, and owned by John D. Rockefeller. Originally, the company was the only steelmaker west of the Mississippi and played an important role in the expansion of transportation from the Atlantic Ocean across to the Pacific. It is now owned by Evraz, a company that produces rods and bars, and the bulk of the transportation rail in America. The company’s work and the massive size of its former steel mill in Pueblo make it the largest consumer of electricity in the Centennial State. In 2018, the tide turned when Evraz signed an agreement with Xcel Energy (the Colorado Public Utilities Commission) to develop a 240-megawatt solar facility on the property. This move, in effect, made a once-giant polluter the first electric arc furnace in the world to rely primarily on solar energy. And the benefits rippling through the region aren’t just the environmental kind; the new agreement also created hundreds of safe, clean energy jobs for seventh generation Pueblo Coloradans. This project has been lauded worldwide as a perfect example of a solution that solves both the pandemic-fueled job crisis and the climate challenges we face.

Across the state, from the higher mountain elevations of the west to the sloping prairies in the east, regenerative agriculture is taking center stage. Farmers, who have struggled with inconsistent finances, are branching out to solar and carbon smart farming for both income and a more positive impact on the environment. A great example is Jack’s Solar Garden, a locally-owned farm near Longmont, which provides a perfect model for family farm operations nationally. The farm’s income has significantly increased after planting more than 3,000 solar panels to power more than 300 homes in the area. The soil beneath these solar panels is still used to farm traditional crops. It’s a concept that is infinitely scalable.

“You’re really harvesting the sun twice,” explained Jordan Macknick, the Lead Energy-Water-Land Analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “You can utilize the sun that hits the solar panels to produce clean electricity. And all of the sun that lands around the panels, underneath the panels, that can be converted into food and agricultural production.”

Other Colorado farms are making the transition to carbon smart farming, a practice being studied extensively by Colorado State University. Carbon smart farming offsets the large loss of carbon from traditional farming through no-till practices and cover crops, drastically reducing the amount of often-dangerous chemicals needed to keep the land fertile. It’s both fiscally-wise and Earth-saving.

Changes are afoot in the automotive industry as well. Formerly, most automobile manufacturers were known for gas-powered vehicles. Now, across the country – and the world – industry giants such as Ford and General Motors are pivoting to follow the now conventional trend of producing electric cars. Though no electric vehicle has been a big hit, carmakers are confident in its future, and dozens of new models are on the horizon. A remarkable 20 to 30 new electric nameplates are coming by 2030. And the move-to-electric investment numbers are huge: $20 billion from General Motors (committed to at least 30 new electric vehicles including the development of a new electric Hummer), $11 billion from Ford – and a massive $91 billion from the Volkswagen Group.

And it’s not just the automobile manufacturers joining the electric race. Gasoline goliath British Petroleum (BP) is working hard to reinvent itself as an energy company in the electric age. BP is shrinking its focus on oil and petroleum, and focusing on offshore wind power, as well as solar and battery storage. There may soon be electric charging stations at your neighborhood BP, a part of the company’s drive to offset its carbon emissions by 2050.

Mining companies worldwide are following suit, using so-called green minerals to replace coal as their primary energy source. There is a massive rush across the industry to use the environmentally-benign potash (a high-value fertilizer) and dump the biggest pollutant in coal.  International corporations such as Rio Tinto have sold all of their coal interests, while competitor BHP is considering off-loading all of its thermal coal interests.

As the move toward a circular economy spreads further and further, the transformation of established companies and their manufacturing processes – and spaces – into more sustainable ones is a key driver of positive environmental change. Colorado is setting a prime example of adaptive reuse and reinvention of old spaces into new, low-pollutant ones. Whether it’s a former steel mill using solar as power for its new business, gas-guzzling SUVs going electric, or farmers “growing” carbon for the future, these changes ensure long-term benefits for these companies, American innovation, and societal well-being.


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