Renewing Bush’s Energy Vision

President Bush is visiting the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden today, but if I were in charge of his calendar, I’d also clear his schedule for Wednesday and have him visit two very different towns in Colorado.

First, I’d have him fly to Lamar, where the Colorado Green windfarm has injected new economic hope into this southeastern Colorado town of 8,800. During construction of this 162-megawatt windfarm in 2003, nearly 400 workers filled the town’s motels and restaurants, providing a huge economic boost to Lamar and its business community. Revenues from this project increased Prowers County’s tax base 26 percent in 2004, providing new funding for schools, hospitals, social services and other county functions. It also created 14 permanent full-time jobs in the community. Southeastern Colorado also has abundant agriculture-based energy potential. Its productive land can grow energy crops for ethanol, biodiesel and electric power production, providing new income opportunities for farmers and ranchers. Lamar is host to an innovative project, sponsored in part by Gov. Bill Owens’ energy office, that converts hog waste into clean electric power. Southeastern Colorado’s abundant renewable energy resources can help revitalize this economically struggling region and enhance our national energy security by helping fulfill Bush’s goal of replacing 75 percent of our imported oil by 2025. After visiting Lamar, the president should then fly to Aspen, home of some of the world’s finest skiing. There, the former oil man would probably see more halfpipes than oil pipes. But, in Aspen, our president could visit with executives of Aspen Skiing Co. and learn how this company has taken a national leadership role in integrating clean new energy technologies into its operations. Aspen already powers 5 percent of its operations with renewable energy, and that number will increase significantly. Aspen features two industry-leading on-site renewable energy projects: a micro-hydroelectric plant that generates power from spring runoff, and the ski industry’s largest photovoltaic array. While in Aspen, the president could gain a firsthand understanding of how the skiing company’s aggressive climate mitigation strategy can provide important economic benefits. Aspen understands the danger of climate change and is a leader in taking steps to address this threat, using energy efficiency and new energy technologies. Upon leaving Aspen, President Bush should instruct his pilot to circle over western Colorado’s wilderness areas and vast undeveloped tracts of land. Many of these public lands have natural gas, oil shale and other fossil energy deposits that some officials in Washington want to develop or sell, which is stirring controversy throughout the West. Lamar and Aspen are just two of many Colorado clean energy success stories. Others include Agro Management Group of Colorado Springs, which makes vegetable-based, low-emission biodegradable motor oil, and Littleton’s Community Power Corp., which is demonstrating a new biopower technology for on-farm conversion of switchgrass to provide both heat and power. Back in Washington, perhaps the president can begin drafting new federal clean energy policies modeled on Aspen’s climate mitigation strategy, as well as on Colorado’s own renewable energy standard, Amendment 37. America’s business community would respond by creating new jobs and economic opportunities nationwide as companies rise to the challenge of manufacturing and implementing new energy technologies. If our country leverages NREL’s world-class research and uses more of the West’s inexhaustible, domestic clean energy resources – such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other agricultural energy crops – then our wilderness areas can remain wild, ski slopes will stay white and rural areas will enjoy sustained economic progress. Even if President Bush never sets foot in Lamar or Aspen, I hope he realizes that aggressive federal policies that advance domestic, inexhaustible renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies will enable America’s resourceful citizens and innovative business community to prosper in the 21st century. Craig Cox is the executive director of the Western Business Coalition for New Energy Technologies.
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