ThunderRidge seniors create a business plan to make Highlands Ranch fully renewable.
A proposal by Douglas County students to convert Highlands Ranch into the world's first community to rely entirely on renewable energy drew praise Thursday from an impressed and kindred spirit: Gov. Bill Ritter.
The 16 seniors at ThunderRidge High School showed the governor their plan for the unincorporated Douglas County community to form an "energy platform" government and create a $14 million business incubator for renewable resources.
Their goal is to wean the suburb of 90,000 people from fossil fuels by 2020 — the same year Ritter hopes to reduce the state's overall "carbon footprint" by 20 percent as part of his climate-action plan.
"I do not go to every high school in Colorado to talk about their senior projects," the Democratic governor said. "But I believe in my heart of hearts that you will face a tough future unless we do the things you're proposing today."
Picking up an environmental initiative started by last year's seniors, the group of top students crafted a comprehensive business plan — consulting with investment firms, energy companies and architects — for an energy campus on property near C-470.
The centerpiece would be the business incubator, where startup alternative-energy companies would gain subsidized work space in exchange for a share of their profits from licenses, patents and royalties.
"Hopefully it would attract the next Einstein in renewable energy," said 17-year-old Will Palamet, the elected spokesman for his classmates.
The effort is the brainchild of local resident and renewable-energy proponent Steve Taraborelli, who prodded school officials to stress environmental responsibility among students.
Among its boosters is L.G. Chavez, chief executive of the Burt Automotive Group, which provided students with a $5,000 seed grant.
Ritter applauded the proposal and said it meshes with his efforts to lure alternative-energy companies to the state.
"We need to be a leader here," Ritter said. "It provides for energy security . . . and it provides for economic security because we can build jobs around this."
Students hope to place a measure on the 2010 local election ballot to incorporate Highlands Ranch for the purpose of converting to alternative energy.
"A lot of adults might look down at this," said Palamet. "I know my father was kind of skeptical at first, but he seems to have opened his eyes a little to the concept."
Steve Lipsher: 970-513-9495 or firstname.lastname@example.org