By JIM SPEHAR
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
— Bob Dylan,
Subterranean Homesick Blues
No, this isn’t going to be another column about octogenarian Robert Allen Zimmerman. My thanks for indulging last week’s detour from usual editorial page topics into musical history.
This week let’s consider how “the times they are a-changin’” in the ways we power our lives. And recent examples of the sea change that’s occurring in our homes, our cars and virtually everything else in our daily lives that requires a jolt of energy.
In the past few days, we’ve seen headlines like these:
“Powerful signal: In a single day Big Oil suffers historic blows on climate.” From that Wednesday story: “In the space of a few hours, Exxon Mobil Corp. was bested by an upstart shareholder seeking to shake up the company’s board. Chevron Corp. investors instructed the company to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. A Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to slash emissions by 45%.”
America’s largest automaker, the one whose pickup trucks have been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 39 straight years, unveiled the F-150 Lightning. It’s one thing to have a few swoopy oddly-named electric-powered cars buzzing along our streets or to anticipate a Rivian or Tesla pickup that looks like a spaceship with wheels. Quite another to know more than 3,000 Ford dealerships across the country will be offering a hybrid full-size truck that looks just like the one already parked somewhere along your street.
Our region is part of the evolution
Heck, it’s a hybrid Jeep Wrangler, another iconic American brand, that’s the prize this year in our Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra’s annual fundraising raffle. Our recalcitrant county commissioners finally came around to allowing participation in a business-oriented alternative energy program that’s been in place in some neighboring counties for years. Just to the south, the Delta Montrose Electric Association, freed of constraints under Tri State Generation and Transmission, is saving consumers money and, decades after pioneering geothermal exchange, is planning a solar installation that’ll power 18,000 homes.
To the dismay of fossil fuel supporters, this discussion is not about British Thermal Units. This evolution is not caused by regulation. It’s not dependent upon subsidies.
This change is a product of market forces, consumer demand and changing societal attitudes that cross all demographics. Worldwide, major banks will no longer lend for fossil fuel exploration and development. Companies like Xcel, which once fought new rules, act now like they invented them. There are few remaining who deny human activities impact climate change.
Decades ago, those three “Big Oil” companies mentioned earlier, including one I consulted, fueled the last round of oil shale speculation. Shell’s Mahogany test site in Rio Blanco County now houses an award-winning solar farm. Market forces and evolving technologies were once again the death knell of the “fuel of the future.” Pipe dreams about transporting Piceance Basin natural gas to Oregon for shipment to the Far East seem to be just as ephemeral.
Thirty-plus years ago, major international companies were already involved in solar and wind and biomass. Shell executives repeatedly reinforced they were not an oil company but instead an energy company that didn’t want to be “in the buggy whip business” as sources evolved. Shell announced recently its involvement in developing hydrogen fueling stations in Europe.
In another life, I also developed a training program to assist western communities in transitioning to alternative energy. One guest instructor offered that “you must first eat your energy efficiency vegetables before you have your alternative energy dessert.” Most of us have consumed at least some of our vegetables. Homes are better built, appliances are more efficient, vehicle miles per gallon have improved so much that gas taxes no longer keep pace with highway needs. It’s now dessert time.
As my late friend, energy guru Randy Udall, once said: “Pretending that the (energy) future is going to be just like the past is a recipe for failure.”
The alternative energy/climate change genie is out of the bottle. Though this transition may take awhile, those with fingers in the conventional energy dike, trying to hold back the evolution from fossil fuels, find themselves awash in a sea of change.
“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
— Thomas Edison (to Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in 1931)
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