SLOAN | The redemption of the Colorado Energy Office

Author: Kelly Sloan - April 30, 2018 - Updated: April 30, 2018

Kelly Sloan

There is something to be said for a legislative process which, even in what many have categorically proclaimed to be the most bitterly rancorous, partisan year in living memory, still manages now and then to churn out legislation which tackles major issues and does so in a bi-partisan manner. One such effort is Senate Bill 18-003, sponsored by Senator Ray Scott and Representatives Chris Hansen and Jon Becker, which resuscitated the floundering Colorado Energy Office, and made it a better agency in the process.

What SB -003 does is to essentially de-politicize the office, to the extent that is possible. That is a remarkable feat, and to be sure there is enough in the bill to irritate the flanks of both parties, which is generally a promising indication that it could prove workable.

The re-focused Energy Office alights on the question of whether “all-the-above” is merely a prosaic cliché or actually meaningful. The bill realigns the agency from being merely a vehicle for the advancement of an agenda – the official promotion of “wind, solar, or nothing” – towards something more viable and realistic, which seeks solutions to the problem of how to meet current and future energy demands, free of ideological baggage.

The bill recognizes several realities:

  • An energy policy is not optional, whether at the state or federal level. The United States, along with the rest of the western world, stumbled through the late 1970s without a viable energy policy strong enough to stave off OPEC’s cartelization of the worlds energy supply, and the memories are not pleasant.
  • Oil and natural gas are finite sources; we will, one day, run out. A responsible energy outlook realizes that, any ecological offense notwithstanding, there exists only so much petroleum, and eventually – fifty years from now? A hundred? – the pumpjacks will produce the final barrel. But not tomorrow, as we keep managing to find new deposits and refine methods of developing yesterday’s. For the foreseeable future at least, fossil fuels remain essential, and central to keeping our civilization humming along.
  • The value of “renewables” – abundance – is as obvious as their limitations; intermittence and unreliability. The primary inhibition towards the economical use, especially on a large scale, of wind and solar is the inherent inefficiency of storage. We don’t yet now how to store energy well, and if you don’t believe me simply leave your cell phone unplugged for a day or disable the alternator on your vehicle before your next journey beyond the driveway. A key feature of this bill is the direction it gives to looking at the problem of energy storage, a problem which, if successfully navigated, could be a development on the scale of inventing the electric lightbulb. The libertarian enzymes within me suggest strongly that the problem will be solved ultimately, and far more efficiently, by the private sector; but civilizations are entitled to pursue grand endeavors, and it is not entirely unreasonable for government to lend a careful, and limited, hand. If nothing else, directing a few public resources at the dilemma is far more efficient and far less economically disruptive than subsidizing solar banks and wind farms. Still, that technological leap, if conquerable, remains several years, even decades, into the future, leaving renewables stuck at providing around 20 percent of the electricity used, and leaving us in need of a clean source of energy to transition to.
  • Nuclear energy is the most realistic and reliable source of clean energy available currently and for the manageable future. Colorado, like much of the U.S., has long been obstinately resistant to the advent of nuclear power, but cannot remain in the dark ages forever. The Arab Gulf states, for decades dependent on the oil with which they supplied most of the world, are beginning to turn to nuclear power with zeal. The United Arab Emirates last month became the first Arab state to open a nuclear plant, with three more due to be operational by 2021. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also embarking on nuclear projects. It has been well over 30 years since an American reactor was brought online.

SB 003 does several other things – for instance, reducing or eliminating a number of nice-sounding but obsolete and unused pet programs, and requiring that the Office’s budget be reviewed by the legislature annually – but its signal achievement is the repurposing of the Energy Office from being merely a flagship for the energy fad of the moment into being a useful tool for honestly and comprehensively informing the state’s energy policy into the future.

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.