By KENNETH SCISSORS and JIM MARSHALL

The Colorado Legislature has finally ended a historically lengthy session. Surplus funds in the state coffers due to better-than-expected pandemic-era tax revenues, combined with sizable federal stimulus funds, led to an unprecedented number of grant-packed bills signed into law. To add a cherry on top, there seems to be genuine dedication to sharing the wealth with the Western Slope.

The Grand Valley Cleantech Business Coalition (CBC), with help from the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Grand Junction Economic Partnership, Colorado Cleantech Industry Association, and E2-Environmental Entrepreneurs has doggedly followed the proceedings to identify bills that could bring immediate economic benefits to our region by stimulating its burgeoning Cleantech Industry.

As the co-chairs of the CBC, we would like to share these exceptional opportunities with The Daily Sentinel’s readers. While there are many bills with potential benefit, we will focus here on two of the most promising. We understand that the passage of a bill is the beginning of a process, and not the end, and much can happen along the way; so with that caveat, here are our picks.

HB21-1253: “Renewable and Clean Energy Project Grants.” This popular bipartisan bill adds a one-time infusion of $5 million to the Department of Local Affairs’ (DOLA) existing Renewable and Clean Energy Grant program, which provides grants to local governments to fund public renewable energy projects.

The city of Grand Junction recently granted $540,000 from the existing initiative toward its “Persigo Methane to Compressed Natural Gas” project, widely hailed as a ground-breaking accomplishment resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and cleaner fuel for city vehicles. Now with additional funding from this bill, the opportunity for Grand Junction, Mesa County, Fruita, and Palisade to attain funding for money-saving clean energy projects couldn’t be better. These extra funds will run out, so we are urging our local government leaders to move quickly.

HB21-1149: “Energy Sector Career Pathway in Higher Education.” This bill tasks the Colorado Workforce Development Council in collaboration with leaders in workforce development and higher education to design a career pathway primarily in the solar photovoltaic and renewable careers (SPARC) workforce development program in the Department of Labor and Employment.

SPARC’s purpose described in the bill summary is “to create capacity for and bolster training, apprenticeship, and education programs in the energy sector career pathway to increase employment in the energy sector, prioritizing in-demand and growing occupations in the energy sector.”

In other words, most career path energy sector training to date has been in the fossil fuels sector, but with renewable energy now outpacing the fossil fuel industry in job growth, it makes sense to offer more training to meet the demand.

It is important to note that the increased training funded by this bill does not come at the expense of adequate existing fossil fuel related job training. It is our hope and expectation that a well-defined and executed career pathway in clean energy will result in a more diverse and sustainable job market for aspiring and existing energy workers alike.

We look forward to engaging with our local educators, workforce trainers, and economic development organizations to become a model community for producing and retaining top-notch technicians and professionals in the expanding fields of clean energy and energy efficiency.

These two bills, along with many others in various sectors, are generously providing opportunities to expand and diversify our economy at a time of great need, especially here on the Western Slope. We are not done battling COVID-19, but we are at a stage of rebuilding and growing our businesses and job markets.

With the cleantech industry growing rapidly throughout the nation and the state, these particular bills offer great opportunities for us to move our economy forward, something we would all like to see happen.

Ken Scissors, M.D., is the chair of the Cleantech Business Coalition. Jim Marshall is co-chair of the coalition and executive vice president of Raven Ridge Resources Inc.