Global warming, fuel consumption, and their relation to crucial issues such as poverty and war will shape our political and social debates for years to come. Colorado is brimming with the emerging energy alternatives and long-established resources that will play a pivotal role in this discussion. With promising power generators such as biofuel and geothermal still in the embryonic stage here at home—and with nuclear on the shelf for now—we look at the most prominent local energy options, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they might affect you today and tomorrow.
It's dark as night seven miles inside Colorado's Western Slope, but the beam of light from a miner's headlamp illuminates the lump of black gold in his grimy hand. "I'm the first human to ever see this particular piece of the earth," he says, turning it over to reveal a fossilized fern. He's also one of the few people—one of about 2,200 Colorado coal miners—that ever see coal before it's burned to make electricity. The rock is blacker than black, with shiny flecks of metallic-silver material. About 55 million years ago, the world was still hazy from the crash-landing of the Yucatán Peninsula asteroid. The dinosaurs were obliterated, but plants were reproducing. The Rocky Mountains shot out of the Plains, creating freshwater swamps that produced immense peat bogs. Pressure, time, and heat worked on the mud, plant material, and water to create our state's bituminous coal, a low-sulfur, low-ash, high-energy fossil fuel that still resides in great quantities in Colorado. Today that coal is in high demand.