Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Modest Proposal for Boulder's Carbon Woes

Over the weekend I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Boulder, CO and the city's difficulty in reducing its carbon dioxide output.  The city has invested heavily in subsidizing efficiency measures but these efforts have not been well received and Boulder's carbon output has only decreased by 1% over the past couple of years.

While I'm sure the Journal is tickled stupid about the irony, the article completely missed the big picture.  Only in the captions for the photos and exhibits is it noted that the city receives nearly all of its electrical power from a coal-fired power plant and that electricity for residential, commercial and industrial uses represents 57% of the city's greenhouse emissions. 

Uhh, what am I missing here?  I'm all for high efficiency light bulbs, greater insulation and tankless water heaters, but instead of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in efficiency projects, the city and its residents should chip in and buy the utility a brand new natural gas-fired turbine.  It could cut greenhouse gasses from power generation in half and reduce other forms of sulfur, mercury and particulate pollution. 

Unfortunately there is a stigma about investing in natural gas to achieve environmental goals because it is a fossil fuel, even though it is far superior than the other fossil fuels from an environmental perspective.  We need to overcome this stigma to make real progress in balancing our thirst for energy and the quality of our environment.  I was in Denver and Boulder a couple of years ago (before I started this web site) and my lingering memory from that trip was seeing these mile-long coal trains passing through the Denver from the Powder River Basin in the north to power stations across the west.  While it is economically cheaper to burn all that coal, we as a nation do not take into account the non-economic costs.  At least not yet.

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