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Effective planning can lead to strong economic development

By: David Amster-Olszewski
June 30, 2013 Updated: June 30, 2013 at 2:10 pm
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Few things in life are free. The roads we drive on are not free. Our national security is not free. Protection from fires and other natural disasters is not free. Likewise, economic development, entrepreneurship, and innovation require investment.

The notion of labeling every form of economic development spending as an example of government "subsidy" - read "government waste" - is shortsighted. Effective fiscal policy is critical to the long-term sustainability of our economy.

As an entrepreneur and founder of a growth company in the solar industry, I have had the good fortune of an inside perspective on this conversation. Two years ago Colorado Springs became the first city in the country to implement a Community Solar program via a public-private partnership.

Colorado Springs' Community Solar program was recognized around the country for its ability to bring the option of solar to every energy consumer in the city regardless of shading, home ownership, or income level. The program reduces costs to the utility and consumers versus comparable consumer renewable energy programs, and provides a cost-reduction roadmap for the elimination of subsidies for solar energy.

Smart public policy and the wise use of government resources has the potential to spur economic development and innovation. For our business, this program attracted us to the region and caused us to locate our headquarters in Colorado Springs. As our company grows, so has our economic impact.

Our company's awards of projects with other utilities and an expanding pipeline tell us the train that started moving with the first City Council vote enabling Community Solar in September of 2011 will not turn back at a national level.

California's coming approval of a $2 billion Community Solar "pilot program" to be implemented in 18 months speaks for itself. As I met with industry executives in Silicon Valley last week, I realized a concept that was unheard of only two years ago is becoming mainstream. This is in large part the doing of Colorado Springs Utilities first, with a closely followed ruling by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in 2012 opening up such Community Solar programs to over 70 percent of Coloradans.

A culture of pessimism and negativity in our beautiful city takes hold when the topics of taxes, incentives, and government spending arise. The impact of destroying optimism and the resulting culture of entrepreneurialism that leads to a stronger economy is unfortunate.

Let us celebrate our city's innovation rather than brand ourselves as the city that can't afford to turn its streetlights on. Colorado Springs should use its leadership as a branding opportunity. Leveraging its 300 days of sunshine and crisp cool air to jolt a new industry into creation is just one example. There are many more. It is time for us to leverage our strengths, not our weaknesses.

Who would have thought that a groundbreaking new business model for renewable energy would start in Colorado Springs? Let us surprise people with the story of how effective fiscal policy led to economic growth.


David Amster-Olszewski is the founder and president of SunShare and a graduate of Colorado College.

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