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Opinion: The best path to better energy policy means small, reasonable steps

We can make progress without continuing to alienate many by casting economic reality as selfishness or callousness to the environment.

A Nissan Leaf gets fueled up at a Denver International Airport parking lot near Pena Station. Colorado is among the top states for sales of electric vehicles. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

How is our energy policy working for you?

The summer that I installed central AC in my attic in Sterling was a hot one. I knew when I bought this house that I’d have to install central AC: I never had it as a kid, but that first apartment with AC spoiled me. Forced to choose, I think I’d go with AC over central heat.  

Unfortunately, parts delays forced me to push the work out to early June, and if you’ve been in an attic in June for any length of time, you’ll understand why I say the summer was a hot one. 

Suffering through the grunt work was not without benefit, however.  I used the savings to make my system highly efficient.  I bought R8 insulation for the ducts, and I bought a high-efficiency air handler and a high efficiency condenser.  Cool fresh air and lower operating costs are things I am on board with.

Cory Gaines

Shortly after finishing, I heard that Xcel Energy offers rebates on high-efficiency equipment.  Sign me up.  More savings is great.  The problem is that I don’t qualify.  

Supposedly, to have the system set up correctly (I had no problem getting my mechanic to set mine up correctly), you must use one of Xcel’s authorized contractors in order to get the rebates.  Where I live (and in many other parts of Colorado) there are no local people on Xcel’s list.  Trying to pay someone from another part of the state to come out would effectively negate the refund.   

I don’t regret buying high-efficiency equipment; I bought it before I even knew about the rebate.  My experience has made me reflect, however, on how the lofty goals of our state government and energy providers are affecting the everyday lives of people like you and me. 

Like many of you, I don’t have any animus to sensible things that promote renewable energy, less greenhouse gas emissions, or efficiency.  We might part ways on the urgency of climate change and the best response to it, but I think most reasonable people are open to more than you’d think.  

It’s just a question of how we do things.  

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Are we going to have mandates on greenhouse gas limits with arbitrary dates whose main effect will be to pinch all those except people with the means to live comfortably, no matter what?  Are we going to live in a state where policy is crafted to appease a narrow band of people while ignoring the real-world constraints of others?  Are we going to have policy that takes money out of your pocket and gives it to someone who has more money than you?

If you think I’m overstating, let me give you an example. In support of recent state legislation mandating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Jared Polis’ administration worked with Xcel on a plan to charge you more so that it could offer generous subsidies to those wanting to buy electric cars. That plan later was significantly scaled back.  

There are thousands like me for whom an electric car is a long ways off, incentive or no.  Did anyone stop to consider that  to compare the magnitude of the price tag relative to salary?  Yet, had the original plan gone into effect, it would have taken money from my pocket and the pockets of all the others that can’t afford electric vehicles so it could be passed to a wealthy person in Boulder to help them defray part of the $55,000 price tag.  

Would this nonsense have even been considered if we didn’t push so hard and make lower greenhouse-gas emissions numbers our sole focus?

I’m not asking to kick the ecological can down the road.  As I said above, I am fine with change because when it’s done right, change doesn’t pit one part of our lives against another and there is room for multiple good things to happen.  We can indeed have lower greenhouse gases, cheaper energy, and jobs.  

We’re not going to do that with our current energy policy, and I grow fearful that we will with the rumblings I hear out of the General Assembly. 

We should be focusing on listening, genuinely listening, to all Coloradans and not just Front Range environmentalists, to determine what small, reasonable steps can people afford now.  Making small and reasonable our focus, we’ll actually make progress without continuing to alienate and anger many (myself included) by casting economic reality as selfishness or callousness to the environment. 

We need to start incentivizing change and innovation rather than more aggressive mandates.  Rushing to meet self-imposed deadlines will lead to yet more nonsensical policy.  

Imagine instead that we were the state that finally cracked how to cheaply produce the kind of batteries that could store our abundant, but highly-variable, solar energy and then sold it to everyone else.  How many more jobs and how much more wealth would that make compared to just adding more departments to our state bureaucracy?  How much would that contribute to reducing greenhouse gases?


Cory Gaines of Sterling, who runs the Colorado Accountability Project on Facebook, lives for what Richard P. Feynman called “the pleasure of finding things out.”


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

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