Rocky Mountain High: Colorado and Energy Surplus

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In Seven States of Energy Debt I added an energy-twist to the current comparisons between fiscally troubled European countries like Greece and Portugal, and their counterparts in the US such as California, Illinois, and Florida. In addition to high rates of unemployment, a number of US states are also significant energy importers or worse have virtually no energy production at all, from which to draw steady revenue. But what about the other side of that equation? What about US states whose energy production well exceeds their energy-using populations? On Tuesday, I had a good conversation about this issue with Rich Blake, a journalist from ABC News, and I found myself thinking about Colorado.

Colorado produces about 40% more energy than it consumes. It’s an enormous producer of natural gas, and a minor producer of coal and oil. What’s impressive also in Colorado, based on my recent trip to Denver last autumn, is to witness the accelerating level of awareness on the part of the Governor, Mayor(s), and Senators/Congressmen that any reduction in automobile use and related infrastructure would bring the state into even greater energy surplus.

To this point, both the city of Denver and the State are very much behind efforts to build out both Denver and Front Range rail transport, and they are already very much underway in that effort.

It is perhaps instructive, therefore, that Colorado unemployment on both the narrow and broad measures sits below national averages. Narrow unemployment in the state is 7.5%, and under the broad measure is currently at 13.7%. But compare these to national averages at 9.7% and 16.5% respectively. For greater contrast, compare to states such as California, with its woeful 12.4% and 21.1% rates, respectively.

Colorado, which has been transitioning steadily to the use of natural gas in both its household and commercial sectors, still only uses 40% of the natural gas it produces. The other 60% is exported via major pipelines and, functionally speaking, Colorado produces a lot of the natural gas supply that is pushed westward each day to the energy deficit states.

The less Colorado uses cars, and the more it relies on its own natural gas, the further Colorado gets towards becoming a power-sector state, which is exactly the direction we must go in the post peak, post-liquids era. More broadly, to the extent Colorado uses net fossil fuel earnings to build more rail transport while also embracing wind and solar (with its above average sunshine supply) the Rocky Mountain State is already conducting its own version of energy transition.

Photo: Willow Creek, Colorado 1942. By Andreas Feininger 1906-1999 via Library of Congress on flickr.