Feb 282010
Authors: Ian Bezek

Over the years, Fort Collins has developed a very dynamic economy. Originally just a hub for agriculture with an emphasis in sugar beets, Fort Collins has prospered in recent decades by moving toward high technology.

Ever since Hewlett-Packard began moving into Northern Colorado, fostering a whole new wave of technology jobs, Fort Collins has started to focus its emphasis away from agriculture and resources and more toward jobs that require the educated workforce that CSU creates.

That said, the Northern Colorado economy still does rely on agriculture and natural resources to create many jobs, and I fear we may be threatening those jobs with our unrelenting push toward clean and green industries.

Over the past few years, Northern Colorado has, in particular, focused its energy on creating a burgeoning alternative energy industry. We have created a so-called “cluster” of companies here in Northern Colorado that all focus on alternative energy.

These companies, led by the foreign wind turbine maker Vestas, have begun to transform the face of the Northern Colorado economy, leading to sweeping changes in priorities for our local leaders.

But perhaps they’ve swept too far.

In addition to the green jobs, the Northern Colorado area has a generous endowment of natural gas, timber, arable land and oil. Just in the past month, drilling in neighboring Weld County has discovered a gushing geyser of newfound oil.

This is good timing for us, as the tide appears to be turning against alternative energy and green jobs to a large degree. The Democrats, backers of alternative energy are rapidly losing power in Washington.

In addition, President Obama has made headlines with his efforts to bring nuclear energy back to respectability, and his efforts to spearhead the growth of the nuclear industry could cause repercussions for alternative energy. Since nuclear energy is safe, clean, efficient and dirt cheap, it is a viable energy source that can easily make alternative energy irrelevant for the near future.

The cost of alternative energy is also not falling sufficiently quickly. It still costs far more to use alternative energy than the more traditional alternatives, and it will be many years before wind and solar can compete with coal, oil and nuclear fuel on cost.

The other incentive to go green, the environment, is also fading. The Climategate scandal and the plummeting credibility of the international bodies investigating climate change are causing the public to become increasingly skeptical of the need to fight global warming reducing the allure of alternative energy.

We risk putting all our economic eggs in one basket, alternative energy, and it isn’t a safe basket to commit fully to. The mainstay of the town, CSU, is seeing its funding come increasingly under fire, and if Fort Collins’ and Northern Colorado’s bet on clean energy doesn’t pan out as well, the Northern Colorado region will be in deep trouble.

What we need to do is use the resources we do have to ensure that we keep our economy balanced and able to react to change. To do that, we must continue to encourage the development of resource-based industries despite their negative externalities.

For instance, the proposed uranium mine near Nunn, about 10 miles east of here, should be allowed to proceed. Uranium is increasingly vital to the functioning of our economy and America is heavily reliant on foreigners for its supply. We need American uranium mining for our national security and to further our economic interests. Building the mine here in Northern Colorado would create roughly 100 jobs and produce millions of dollars of much needed taxes for Northern Colorado.

A similar case can be made for the local oil supply. America needs more and more oil, we have less and less, and so our supply here is increasingly valuable. We must not let environmentalists block us from creating hundreds of needed jobs and a wealth of tax receipts from these oil fields we are fortunate to have here in Northern Colorado.

I’m glad we’ve made a bet on alternative energy; it will probably reward us one day. But in the meantime, let’s take advantage of all our resources to ensure our economy remains strong and jobs plentiful regardless of what the future holds.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@ collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:41 pm

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