Position of Power

As America struggles with energy security, Denver can light the way.

November 2007

Can one city, or for that matter one person, make a difference in the great conflict in which we are now engaged: the struggle to achieve energy security and energy independence? I believe the answer is yes. As one of the nation’s renewable-energy centers, Denver is uniquely situated to do what must be done to ensure that future generations of young Americans will not fight Gulf Wars for someone else’s oil.

This mission will not be easy. In order to change the way we drive we must first change the way we think. Every family in Denver can make a list of wasteful energy uses to be eliminated. It is not necessary that every car on the road have only one person in it. It is not necessary that all houses be heated to 80 degrees. It is not necessary to fire up the family Buick to dash to the 7/11 for a loaf of bread.

Presently the United States imports 60 percent of its oil, at the annual cost to consumers of some $420 billion. We are borrowing money from the Chinese and Japanese to finance that cost. That money will have to be repaid, with interest, at some date. Meanwhile, a large portion of our military budget is spent protecting and acquiring Middle East oil. If we internalized the costs of that military budget into the costs of gasoline, we would be paying $6 to $8 for a gallon of gas. And that cost does not include more than 30,000 American casualties (wounded and killed) in Iraq.

Only in this recent Congress, after more than 25 years, did we mandate increased fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles sold in the United States. Our government could begin to withdraw subsidies for oil companies and increase subsidies for alternative, renewable fuels such as ethanol from glucose (switch grass, corn, sugar cane, etc.) and biodiesel from animal waste and carcasses. Our policymakers can require automakers to produce much greater numbers of plug-in hybrid cars and mandate the use of carbon composites that are much lighter, and stronger, in automobile bodies and parts. These and other steps can bridge the 25-year gap from here to the age of hydrogen.

All this is well-known and constantly repeated by experts. Global warming has been acknowledged by virtually the entire scientific community, with the exception of all but a handful of political dinosaurs beholden to polluting industries. To be sure, what is lacking is not technical expertise. What is lacking is political will and political leadership. It is in the nature of capitalism for energy companies to continue their current efforts to maximize profits. It is in the nature of consumers to want readily available products at the lowest cost. Neither will change without a basic understanding that our current national energy policy is to sacrifice the lives of our sons and daughters for foreign oil and to sacrifice the global environment of future generations to our wasteful consumption.

But while much power rests in the hands of a presently ineffective national government, Denver can act now, lead a nation by example. Working with energy producers and suppliers, such as Xcel Energy, and perhaps major industrial suppliers such as General Electric, we can make DIA the first energy self-sustaining airport in the world by combining new efficiencies with wind, solar, and biomass methane. We can request competitive bids from auto manufacturers to produce a fleet of carbon composite cars for Denver’s public vehicles. We can set strict LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “green building” standards for all new public and private buildings, and retrofit existing structures. We can mandate that all unoccupied buildings turn their lights out at night.