Obfuscate is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as: “1 b. to make obscure 2. confuse.” This word best describes my reaction to Seth Portner’s (Deputy Director of the Governor’s Energy Office) recent op-ed, “Tilting at power plants” (Daily Camera, May 9, 2009). Is it just me, or do others also feel a disconnect with someone who is “no apologist for the utilities in this country” devoting so much of his column to defending Xcel and their coal-fired Valmont power plant?
To those of us who want to see this carbon- and mercury-emitting power plant retired, he asks how can we “want to dictate how it’s operated, when we consume so excessively?” There is no argument that dramatic increases in efficiency are essential to curbing our carbon emissions, but Mr. Portner’s immediate solution, “We simply need to use less,” is not enough. NASA climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, has told us the only hope for keeping a planet similar to the one we enjoy today is “to halt any new CO2 emissions from coal and to phase-out existing coal emissions promptly.” We must begin in our own backyard. With a little foresight and determination, Boulder can make dramatic increases in energy efficiency and replace this monstrosity in our midst with safe and renewable 21st Century technologies.
Mr. Portner goes on to say that Xcel and their Valmont power plant is only a symptom of the problem, that the real problem is the residents of Boulder. I vigorously disagree. While one can certainly argue that we are all the problem (after all, we did collectively choose long ago to generate electricity from coal before realizing its climate and health impacts), the real question is now that we know its true impacts, who is acting on that knowledge going forward? The citizens of Boulder voted to become part of the solution by literally taxing themselves to shrink our community’s carbon footprint. Has Xcel made a similar commitment to phase out their coal burning operations? I think not.
In the interest of fairness, I want to highlight Mr. Portner’s more hopeful comment at the end of his piece: “I am in favor of all big picture innovative solutions to clean our energy situation.” I’ve given you one. Now, please go convince your boss.