But fossil fuels remain a major player here today and the natural-gas industry is booming across Colorado. In the metro region alone, traditional energy companies employ 14,560 people, making fossil fuels the second-largest industry in the area, according to the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. The government is the region’s largest employer.
But renewables are catching up and now employ 13,941 people in the nine counties that make up the Denver region.
The renewable-energy lab’s funding rises and falls with the economy and price of oil, says lab spokesman George Douglas. These days have been good for renewable research.
Last month, Mr. Douglas strode from building to building, explaining how their scientists were figuring how best to turn corn stover, the postharvest remains of the corn plant, into ethanol. In another building, solar panels were being perfected. At one point he stopped to see if there were enough plastic-wrapped safety goggles for groups of Democratic delegates expected to the lab this week.
From geologist to greenie
Hickenlooper moved west in 1981 along with thousands of other exploration geologists drawn by the thriving oil industry that would come to define Denver.
“We were like lemmings,” he joked. When oil crashed, many migrated elsewhere and left the new office buildings vacant that shot up just years before.
But Hickenlooper stayed and did what Denverites before him have done to ride out the low periods that punctuate the city’s story line. He reinvented himself, and his transformation seemed drawn straight from Denver’s history books: he opened a saloon (the city’s first building was a saloon). It was a microbrewery and restaurant, to be more precise, and would eventually become the linchpin for redeveloping the city’s lower downtown neighborhood (now called LoDo), which was just a collection of vacant warehouses and flophouses when his brewpub opened in 1988.