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Ken Salazar says feds confident in solar despite Colorado setbacks

Abound Solar has officially gone bankrupt and General Electric PrimeStar is putting on hold a much-anticipated solar panel plant it had planned for Aurora. Both cases are disappointing developments for renewable energy in Colorado -- but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says these are just minor (and expected) blips for the industry.

Salazar visited the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden on Friday in part to highlight President Obama's commitment to solar and other renewable technologies. And though the visit comes on the heels of bad local news for solar -- tied to intense competition in the global market -- Salazar says folks shouldn't be too concerned.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Renewable Energy Lab Director Dan Arvizu on a campus tour on Friday.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Renewable Energy Lab Director Dan Arvizu on a campus tour on Friday.
Sam Levin

"Any time you're dealing with an emerging future on energy, you're always going to have successes and you're going to have setbacks," he says. "And President Obama and I remain very confident that we're moving in the right direction."

Salazar spoke with Westword on the campus of NREL -- the national laboratory for the Department of Energy (operated by a company called the Alliance for Sustainable Energy) -- after he toured around the new facilities of the 327-acre site, which is in the process of a large expansion.

"When the automobile was developed, there were forward steps and setbacks that took place," he says. "The same thing is going on now with respect to energy."

Page down to read more of our interview with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Salazar also touts the Obama administration's work opening 31 large-scale commercial renewable energy facilities on public lands over the last three-and-a-half years. These constitute seventeen solar projects, six wind farms and eight geothermal facilities, which, the Deptartment of the Interior says will ultimately provide 7,200 megawatts of power in the West -- enough to power nearly 2.5 million homes.

Part of the construction site of NREL's expansion.
Part of the construction site of NREL's expansion.
Sam Levin

"That is huge," Salazar says. "What we need to do is just continue the momentum. And you know, you're going to have stumbling blocks along the way. But I'm confident that in the arc of the history of the world, that we're headed in the right direction."

In the solar industry especially, there are major concerns today about companies facing pricing competition from overseas, which seems to have contributed greatly to Abound's shutdown and GE's recent decision to hold off on building its planned plant. In fact, Brian Murphy, the founder of PrimeStar Solar, a startup that GE eventually bought, says he's not confident in the economic future of the specific solar technology material he originally developed.

Still, Salazar says these investments are vital to the country's economic future.

"Ultimately, we're gonna find ways of powering our economies in a very significant way through all the renewable energies that are being developed right here at NREL," he says.

More from our Environment archive: "Fracking: Website tries to show oil and drilling are great for Colorado"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.