Simone Aiken for Colorado

Environment

The big argument about environmentalism is over. Power generation through renewable methods is now cheaper than power generation through fossil fuels. Even the Intermountain Rural Electric Association - those guys that used to send you those anti-renewable pamphlets wrapped around your power bill every month - are bowing to the almighty dollar and turning to wind and solar when they build new power generation facilities.

Graph showing power prices by source over time. Wind is cheapest, Solar became 2nd cheapest in 2016

Today's solar panels produce over 14 times as much energy as they did when they were invented and can be manufactured at a fraction of the price. As recently as 9 years ago solar power was still over 50% more expensive than coal. Today coal is more than twice as expensive as utility scale solar. Even if you or I never put a solar panel on our houses, our energy providers are building solar and wind farms simply because they produce power more cheaply. If you aren't convinced by a graph someone put up on the Internet consider that Wal-mart is now the largest solar energy producer in the country. In the last 2 years they have retrofitted over 300 stores with solar panels. The instant solar was cheaper they jumped on it. 

Colorado's Energy Production

Last year Colorado produced roughly a fourth of its energy from renewable sources.  Our wind generation has been growing steadily since 2006 but then again wind has been competitively priced for quite some time. Our solar is just starting to come in as solar has only just recently become a competitively priced power source. 

The interesting thing about this chart is that our total demand for power has flattened. Slightly up, but then again Colorado's population grew roughly 25% in the same time period so it is significantly down per-capita. And it isn't just happening here, it's happening everywhere in the United States. The Tennessee Valley Authority expects to sell 13% less power in 2027 than it did in 2007. For generations energy demand has increased proportionately to our population growth but around the year 2000 demand flattened even as our population continued to grow. There were ~38 million more Americans in 2016 as compared to 2001 but slightly less total energy consumption. New technology does more with less power while modern buildings and vehicles are vastly more energy-efficient.

This is bad news for fossil fuels. Flat demand means the pie isn't growing anymore, so the increased reliance on renewables is coming right out of their profit margins. They aren't going to disappear entirely any time soon because we need energy even when it is dark out and the wind isn't blowing. But their market share is going to do a lot of shrinking before it stabilizes. The smaller it gets the less economies of scale they will have. This will increase their per-unit cost which will make renewables spread even faster in a positively reinforcing cycle. The knock out punch will come either from new battery/storage technology or new power generation technology.

What is Left to Fight Over?

Firestone Colorado, 2017
Firestone, Colorado on April 17th, 2017

In a word, safety.

The intense pressure that cheap renewables are placing on the fossil fuel industry is leading to corner cutting. Forbes listed oil and gas extraction as the least profitable industry in the United States in 2016. They are being squeezed between the need to keep power costs low to remain competitive with renewables and the costs of production. The only part of that they can control is the production costs. This is a problem for everyone who works at or lives near extraction sites.

There were over a dozen fires and explosions in oil and gas facilities in Colorado in 2017. Common sense safety precautions that were standard in more profitable times - like buffer zones between extraction sites and human habitation - are now legislative footballs.  Last year my opponent voted against a bill that would clarify the minimum distance between wells and schools. Extraction companies were arguing that the existing regulatory distance, 1000 feet, only applied only to the building, not to the play grounds or athletics fields. HB17-1256 clarified that the setback was from the property line. You can't put a pumpjack 15 feet behind the bleachers and say its OK because you are 1,000 feet from the school building. 

It is ludicrous that we have to write a bill to clarify this. Fire and explosion risk aside, the fumes emitted by an operational well should not be breathed constantly. It is even more absurd that the bill died in the senate with opponents claiming that passing it would be tantamount to banning oil and gas extraction entirely in the state. Less than 0.008% of the land in Colorado is within 1,000 feet from a school's property line. The bill even stated that if the well was there before the school was built it could stay.

As your representative I will not allow extraction industry corner cutting to endanger Colorado residents. I will not support legislation that actually is antipathy masquerading as safety concerns either. I will support renewable energy initiatives and local control of safety regulations.
  • I support incentives to get large scale solar manufacturers to build manufacturing facilities in Colorado. These are good paying jobs with a stable future.
  • I support saving taxpayer money by using solar power in government buildings.
  • I support protecting our state's natural beauty - and its 20 billion dollar a year tourist industry - for future generations to enjoy.

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