Archives of Headwaters XIX

Where do we go from here?

Global energy prices and National energy discourses were reflected in numerous ways in the Headwaters this summer. Rising fuel prices triggered notice of higher construction costs and concerns about whether summer tourism would decline (it didn’t seem to…). Nationally, politicians have been responding to these higher prices with a range of proposals to increase the fuel supply, ostensibly in hope of lowering prices. Long haul truckers agitated about the price of diesel--though they did not apparently carry out a threatened strike during the RNC. Car manufacturers began competing with each other to advertise the most fuel efficient models, while less fuel efficient models are increasingly the focus of the low interest purchase options; SUV sales are reported to be slumping, hybrid trucks are being rolled out, and, at least in Gunnison, bicycle commuting and errand running has increased noticeably.

We have also seen increased interest in solving the oil shale extraction problem, exploring for oil, natural gas, and uranium in the region as well as in previously ‘off limits’ off shore and Arctic reserves. Sometimes this interest is expressed as a renewed desire for ‘energy independence’ and at other times as a response to apparently dwindling supplies worldwide—but accompanied by considerable insistence that we had better plan—this time –for mitigation of the economic, social, and environmental impacts of another energy boom.

Outside of our region, but in a decision linked to the power supply for this region, Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius vetoed measures that would have led to construction of new coal-fired power plants and created an energy and environmental policy advisory group, and Tri-State authorized a program to incentivize local renewable energy projects. Locally, homeowners requested changes in policies prohibiting them from installing a tower for a wind turbine, permission to install photovoltaic panels on a city easement and to thus generate more electricity than needed for household use, and the City of Gunnison is now exploring the possibility of installing a microturbine at Taylor Dam, or along the Gunnison River. Crested Butte’s Office for Resource Efficiency recently convened an energy summit to begin developing plans to reduce carbon emissions in the region, and Western State College is seeking bids to install photovoltaic panels on the recently renovated Kelley Hall.

These events frame well the topics of this year’s Headwaters Conference. What are we as a society going to do as energy production becomes increasingly problematic and more expensive? Will consumer behavioral changes be sufficient or is a fundamental change in the nature of our economy required? Will we be prompted to explore ways to generate our own power ? Will the existing power generation and transmission system inhibit such developments or be altered to allow or promote them? Who will dictate the terms of energy conservation, exploration, production, and distribution?

In this, our 19 th Headwaters Conference, we will consider all of these issues, once again beginning with questions posed through a theatrical performance: POWER AND PEOPLE: The Flow of Energy in a Free Society, or, The Flow of Freedom in an Energy Society. This "Living Newspaper" Production is adapted by George Sibley from the 1937 play, "Power", sponsored by the Federal Theatre Project . The original play told the story of the electrification of America, and explored whether electricity was to be a commodity produced and distributed in a market environment by private entrepreneurs, or a public good to be provided to all the people by some combination of public and private producers and distributors. Sibley’s adaptation will focus on the electrification of the Headwaters region and the factors controlling the nature of energy production and distribution today.

Saturday’s sessions will feature a presentation by Duane Vandenbusche on the history of Telluride’s Ames Power Station, and by Randy Udall on "America’s Energy Challenges: Doing More with Less", with additional panels focusing on the opportunities available to local communities, and obstacles to taking local control of energy production.

Our tradition of inviting poets to share their work throughout the weekend, a "Headwaters Café", and the Saturday evening banquet and "Passing of the Gourd" will once again be featured elements of the conference.