Building a Green Economy

09/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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 his 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.

This article is part of The Media Consortium's Live From Main Street series, and is published in conjunction with the next Live From Main Street program, "So You Say You Want Change? Exploring the Conflicts and Opportunities Ahead." Hosted by Laura Flanders of GRITtv, the town hall will feature Van Jones of Green For All, who is interviewed in the article, and a number of other progressive leaders, including Rep. Donna Edwards, Polly Baca, David Sirota, Faye Wattleton, Andre Banks and Lee Camp of Laughing Liberally. This edition of Live From Main Street will tape on Sunday, August 24 at 4:00 p.m. MST in Denver. The town hall will be streamed live and can be viewed at

The taping is open to the public: click here for more details; Click here to RSVP to this event.

Cross-posted from The Consortium Report, a project of The Media Consortium