Gas prices in the U.S. are at an 11-month high, reducing the purchasing power of Coloradans and bolstering stubbornly high inflation. Earlier this year, U.S. ally Japan, in a pinch for energy, has already had to negotiate an exception to the U.S.-imposed price cap on Russian oil that is meant to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his war in Ukraine. Critical U.S. partners elsewhere in the world, such as Singapore, are also feeling pain at the pump.
The source of these problems, which harm American interests both at home and abroad, is that OPEC+ countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia – both of which have recently extended oil production cuts through the end of the year – have what the U.S. and its allies ostensibly need: energy. Except the U.S. doesn’t actually need imported energy, given our ample domestic resources.
Presently, the State of Colorado produces roughly 5.4 million megawatt hours of renewable energy every three months, according to U.S. Department of Energy Statistics – enough to power roughly one-third of Colorado’s 2.4 million households. In this manner, Colorado is leading the way with renewables, which were responsible for 38% of net electricity generation in the state as of June 2023, compared to the national average of 20%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. And the state’s largest utility provider, Xcel, plans to double its renewable energy production capacity by 2030.
As the home of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and more than 2,000 renewable energy technology-focused companies, Colorado’s “cleantech” sector already employs more than 60,000 workers, according to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Contrast this with the fewer than 40,000 employees in the entire U.S. coal mining industry as of 2021.
And as South Dakota illustrates – 70% of the state’s electricity generation came from renewables as of June 2023 – many U.S. states with ample wind and sunshine have an even greater capacity to produce clean energy, reaping the environmental and economic rewards that come with it. Indeed, the Biden Administration is betting on this fact, with plans to fully transition the U.S. to renewable energy production by 2035.
The costs of a renewable energy transition are far from trivial. Xcel’s renewable production plans in Colorado are expected to cost $8 billion by 2030 – all while fossil fuels remain an important part of Colorado and many other states’ energy production portfolios. There is little doubt that It will take a combination of efforts for the U.S. to gain energy independence.
By contrast, energy dependence risks that the U.S. will continue to fall victim to “weaponized interdependence,” a term used by international relations scholars to describe asymmetries in relationships between countries that can be used to change or punish the actions of others. The decision by OPEC+ to cut production could arguably be a signal to countries dependent on their oil that oil exporting countries are a force to be reckoned with.
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A clearer example of this was the 1973 oil embargo that members of OPEC placed on the U.S. during the Yom Kippur War. Weaponized interdependence can happen across other sectors as well, but it is particularly potent with respect to energy because a lack of energy can literally stop a country’s workers in their tracks. In 1973, hours-long lines for gasoline meant valuable time that Americans couldn’t spend working or enjoying time with their family and friends.
Renewables, along with a healthy share of domestically produced natural gas and oil, plus sizable nuclear energy capacity in certain areas, offer our country the opportunity for energy independence. Coupled with the benefits in slowing climate change – a global challenge that Americans will likely continue to face long after the present leaders of OPEC+ are dead and gone – the shift toward substantial investments in increased renewable energy production is a no-brainer.
In the meantime, U.S. energy dependence will continue to harm American interests both at home and abroad. It’s a fact worth pondering the next time you fill your car up at the pump, and one that can only likely be solved by a clean energy future. The sooner we can make it happen, the better.
Collin Meisel, of Idaho Springs, is a geopolitics and modeling expert at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center, and associate director of geopolitical analysis at the University of Denver’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures.
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