Get real on energy, for our children
Article Published: Friday, June 25, 2004
Get real on energy
By Dave Bowden
What will our children be thinking when they look back
at us 50 years from now? Will they applaud our
foresight in creating a sustainable society - or scold
us for our wasteful ways?
Citizens in our state will soon be asked to make an
important decision on the Colorado Renewable Energy
Initiative. It's a gradual increase in clean energy
generation from wind and solar power, offsetting
electricity from polluting coal plants.
The measure is a modest and achievable call for our
state's seven largest utilities to make 10 percent of
our electricity from renewable sources by 2015.
Sixteen other states across America have implemented
these sensible guidelines to protect public health and
promote our national security.
America, with 5 percent of the world's population,
consumes 25 percent of the global energy supply. The
majority of our oil is imported, much of it from
unstable and hostile areas. Projections call for a
slow, worldwide depletion of petroleum over several
What about electricity use? America has plenty of
inexpensive coal, and Colorado utilities generate 83
percent of our juice by burning it. An increasing
amount of our electricity is also generated by
price-volatile natural gas (methane), driving up
demand, raising the cost and competing with your home
furnace for fuel. All these fossil fuels - oil,
methane and coal - are the product of ancient
processes, created over millions of years. We are
burning them in a geological instant. They will never
be replaced. We breathe the toxic pollutants that
these fuels generate, some visible, others not so
That stew of particulates lodges in our lungs,
creating a sharp increase in respiratory ailments like
asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. But what is
invisible - and truly insidious - are the billions of
tons of carbon dioxide that is very likely changing
Earth's climate. The scientific jury is still out on
exactly how those gases will affect many vital areas
on which our society and economy depend.
After considering these issues of national security,
air pollution, bad health effects, depletion, and
expense - let's look at the power of the sun and wind.
We can capture those in our own backyards. They
generate no pollution. The sun will shine for another
few billion years. The wind often blows steadily
across the Eastern Plains. The price is right: free.
Mile-high Colorado is ablaze with sunlight an average
330 days a year, yet very few of our homes have
features to capture that abundant energy. Instead, we
burn methane or use electric heat to stay warm,
missing out on simple techniques to use the sun's
rays. For example, solar buildings use ancient
techniques from Mesa Verde: They face south, where
thermal mass like stone that's exposed to the sun
retains heat for many hours. When shaded in the
summer, it stays cool. Solar thermal panels collect
the sun's energy and circulate heated fluid for space
heating and hot water. Solar photovoltaic panels,
which generate emission-free electricity, are cheaper
than running the grid down miles of rural roads. In
the city, that juice can be sold back to Xcel.
Overall, the key to economical solar energy is
integrating these systems into the building when it's
constructed or renovated, so the cost is amortized
into the mortgage. The net savings to homeowners can
Wind power is now the world's fastest-growing source
of electricity. High-tech utility-scale turbines now
generate electricity cheaper than polluting coal
plants, using no water. The products of continual
innovation, they're able to capture winds that vary
from a modest breeze to a gusty 50 mph.
Typically located in rural areas, they offer
significant economic development opportunities for
farmers and ranchers in hard-hit communities. Earlier
this year, Lamar embraced a large wind farm.
Solar and wind power only top the list of many other
renewable energy technologies: biomass fuels can be
derived from plant materials, and sustainably
generated electricity for electrolysis produces clean-
burning hydrogen that could replace gasoline.
Fortunately, we have the tools and the clean,
inexhaustible sources to reverse the status-quo of
fossil fuel consumption. The bad news is that we have
not had the collective will to change. America faces
stark choices on energy sources and their use. Will we
continue to burn finite resources - or will we use
nature's clean, renewable energy? Our children might
want answers to those questions right now.
Dave Bowden is president of the Colorado Renewable
Energy Society. More about energy and sustainability
can be learned at the Colorado Renewable Energy
Conference, June 25-27 at the University of Denver.
For information, go to http://cres-energy.org or call
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