Craig The first day of Fueling Thought Energy Summit 2008 did not go by without speculation about Northwest Colorado's future.
The Summit, which began Thursday and continues today at the Holiday Inn of Craig, is a platform for energy industry representatives and state officials to discuss Colorado's natural resources economy.
Industry representatives and politicians agreed that Northwest Colorado's clean coal reserves likely will benefit the area for years to come. With the charge for clean energy sources, they said, the region's relatively clean coal should be in high demand.
Many industry speakers lamented the public outcry for renewable resources, saying its unrealistic to assume resources such as wind and solar energy alone could power the country's demand.
"We believe at Tri-State (Generation and Transmission) that one of the highest wind regions in the country is in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming," said Jim McNicol, Tri-State Craig Station power plant manager. "Even in that windiest region in the continental United States, the wind only blew around 30 percent of the time.
"When we bring wind generation into our fleet, we need to back that generation with something. You have to have a base load reserve to rely on when there's such variability in your resource."
Colorado Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, agreed.
"In that future demand," he said, "renewables aren't going to make it."
Renewable and "green" energy sources should be part of the national picture, speakers said, but government requirements shouldn't constrict the industry as a whole.
As representatives from various energy interests around the region took the podium, many speakers made common remarks regarding government regulations.
The energy industry is experiencing a commercial high. Demand is at record, or near record, levels and many operations plan to continue working in the area.
However, industry officials said their businesses are not immune to increased costs, regardless of how profitable they may be at the moment.
Collin Stewart, manager of technical services for Bowie Resources, which has an underground mine in Paonia, reported that 2007 was a record year for his company in terms of coal shipped.
Last year also set a record for energy sales at the Tri-State Craig Station, McNicol said.
Both companies, though, are hurt by what Stewart and McNicol called a harmful regulatory environment.
"There does seem to be an anti-coal attitude out there," Stewart said, referring to both government regulation and the public's seeming disapproval of carbon-based fuels as opposed to renewable energy sources.
That position may disregard a potential windfall for Northwest Colorado, however, said Ken Brenner, Democratic candidate for state Senate District 8, which Taylor is vacating this year because of term limits.
"What we can't forget is that Northwest Colorado has an abundance of very clean-burning coal," Brenner said. "Demand for base load power is never going to go away. The new clean air standards and concerns about carbon dioxide and mercury will make Northwest Colorado coal even more valuable."
Colorado Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, who also is running for Taylor's vacated seat, said new regulations were unfair to the industry.
"I think the industry is being a little unfairly boxed in with all the carbon emission stuff," he said.
White added he hails from a small town in Illinois that once had a large coal mining operation, but was shut down because the coal there was relatively dirty and produced more pollution.
"I'd hate to see Northwest Colorado benefit at the disadvantage or harm to the rest of the industry throughout the United States," White said. "When that mining operation shut down, it put 300 to 400 miners out of work, and that really hurt the area, which was a lot like Craig."