Obama fuels optimism for region’‘s energy

When President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night that by 2035, he wants 80 percent of American electricity to come from clean energy, he made it clear that energy would not be exclusively solar, wind and biofuels.

Nuclear power, clean coal and natural gas must also be in the mix, he said. “We need them all.”

That’s a welcome acknowledgement for a region that’s rich in all of those energy sources, but has not seen them utilized lately as much as they might be.

For instance, a new uranium mill has just won state approval in the West End of Montrose County, the first in the country in a quarter century.

That’s important because the bulk of the uranium that fuels this nation’s existing nuclear reactors comes from other countries. But as those contracts come to an end, much of that uranium may no longer be available.

We’ll need more domestic uranium just to fuel the nuclear plants we already have. And more plants are needed if we are going to meet future electric needs and not increase CO2 emissions.

Once the Colorado Plateau was the primary source of uranium in the world. It can be a significant producer again, with far more regard for the environment and public health than occurred 60 or so years ago.

Colorado has continued to steadily produce coal while other energy sources boomed and busted. Much of that coal, some of the cleanest in the country, has come from the North Fork Valley of Delta and Gunnison counties, and Moffat County. Other sources are also available, such as the Red Cliff Mine near Douglas Pass.

Finding cleaner ways to generate electricity using our abundant coal resources will be good for the nation’s energy future, and will help protect and create thousands of very good jobs in western Colorado.

Then there is natural gas. Just a few years ago, it was the primary economic driver in this region. But exploration and production of natural gas have dropped as gas prices plummeted. And, while oil prices have been steadily rising, natural gas hasn’t followed.

Utilizing natural gas for more electric generation and to fuel more large vehicles would allow us to produce more clean, economical energy and would help stabilize an important industry. Furthermore, with large new reserves now feasible to tap, it could help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. With both the president and Colorado’s new governor proponents of using more natural gas, as well many Republicans, this should be a no-brainer.

One day, solar and wind energy, or some other, as-yet-untested source, may produce the bulk of our energy needs in a clear, economic manner. But they aren’t sufficient yet. We need transition fuels.

Natural gas, nuclear and clean coal can serve in that role. But it will take efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to overcome disagreements — such as which energy sources should receive federal tax credits and other incentives — to make it happen.


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