Mountain News 

Durango group aims for ‘soft’ energy path

Compiled by Allen Best

DURANGO, Colo. – A new group has been formed in Durango that is dedicated to the essential proposition of improving conservation and energy efficiency and reducing demand for more coal-fired power plants.

Called the Southwest Colorado Smart Energy Alliance, the group is lobbying for more solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy sources.

"We all discovered by accident that there’s a large group of people in Durango who are about energy and its relationship to the environment," said Chris Caldwell, chair of the group.

For starters, the group wants the local electrical co-operative to give out compact-fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs, as the former are more efficient and ultimately use less energy. They also want the co-operative to try harder to get people to buy into the renewable energy program.

Implicit in these actions are a realization of the link between local demand and construction of coal-fired power plants. Already, there are two such plants in the Four Corners region, and several more are planned, including a monster $1.4 billion plant near Shiprock, N.M., that would generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes.

But coal-fired plants have large impacts, as do the fumes of cars that blow in from the West Coast plus venting from local wells of natural gas. Local levels of ozone, a major irritant to lungs, is on par with an urban area boasting 3 million cars. Durango also has high levels of mercury, a result of the power plants.

By helping ratchet down demand for electricity, the activists hope to do their part to help maintain existing air quality or at least reduce the steady degradation.

The group’s goal, explained Tim Wheeler, another founding member, is to "find win-win opportunities in the community and act as a resource for information and implementation."

More power, dirtier air

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz.— The crystalline air of the Southwest is getting more oblique, and it could worsen further.

Already, there are 18 coal-fired power plants on or near the Colorado Plateau, as well as giant plumes of exhaust from automobiles blown in from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. Government regulations estimate proposals for another 30 power plants. Environmental activists say that even better – and more expensive – technology is needed to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the air, reports The Denver Post.

Air quality specialist Carl Bowman says that on the clearest days at the Grand Canyon, about 10 per cent of the time, the visibility is still very good. But 10 per cent of the time the canyon is lost in the haze to viewers from the rim.


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