Tilting the Keystone

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Webster defines keystone as "the central principle or part of a policy, system, etc., on which all else depends." Being an ardent opponent of the KeystoneXL in rural Colorado isn't a popular position. The vision for this 21st-century pipeline has been sold as a necessary component of our energy challenges and a massive job creator. Unfortunately, the pipeline is neither and would be better characterized, through the lens of American rural landscapes, as an assault as opposed to an asset.

Giving credit where credit is due, KeystoneXL is someone's vision; when political will combined with that vision the opportunity moved from 'paper to pipeline'. This grand scheme dictates the destruction of  the boreal forest, extracting hydrocarbons formed millions of years ago, forced in a pipeline and moved thousands of miles to Gulf refineries where the final product will be shipped to foreign lands.  It promises thousands of temporary construction jobs and a handful of permanent jobs; it holds the possibility of polluting the nation's largest underground fresh water supply, the Ogallala, and most economists predict the pipeline will increase the cost of gasoline in the Rocky Mountain region 10 to 20 cents per gallon.

From a Colorado perspective there seems to be little upside, and the proposed pipeline project only magnifies our own lack of commitment to a vision of a robust and resilient 21st-century American economy.  In the absence of our own vision, the void is being filled by someone else's.  

But lets for a moment revision the foundation of the Canadian project:  the 1,379 miles of pipe laid horizontal and pointing towards Texas.  Let's  turn it 90 degrees vertical and apply an American idea to the proposal.  Slicing the pipeline into 212 foot segments (the average height of a wind turbine tower, and turning the pipe upwards gives us 34,337 opportunities for wind development across our midwestern landscape.  Using a Colorado-made Vestas product, those sticks transform themselves into 72 gigawatts of wind energy potential, nearly enough generation capacity to displace the 329 coal plants in the United States that face retirement from age or inability to meet new air standards.  Instead of creating a carbon bomb, we've created the infrastructure to displace hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide annually.  

From a fresh water perspective, something important to each and every one of us in the West, displacing 72 megawatts of US coal generation could save over 1,000,000 acre feet of fresh water annually.  Through the lens of job creation,  converting Keystone to kilowatts is the real job creator.  Using industry statistics of an average, 250-megawatt wind farm, simply turning the horizontal pipe upwards would create 150,336 construction jobs, 124,416 positions in manufacturing, 23,040 jobs for planning and development and 7,776 permanent jobs in operations.  From an rural economic perspective, having this scale of infrastructure investment from North Dakota to Texas would give us the platform to create a real, lasting rural renaissance across the Great Plains.

As a part-time creature of Washington, DC mired in rural policy issues, I have little faith that grand visions are possible in today's poisoned political well. My example of slicing the pipeline into wind towers was merely illustrtive but to prove a point on how my personal perspective judges the Keystone plan quite differently from my neighbors. The structural challenges in todays money-soaked, two-party system are daunting.  January will bring us a new majority in Congress that conventional wisdom instructs us will be antagonistic towards alternative forms of energy.  For now I'll hold that criticism until it is earned: Teddy Roosevelt gave us the National Park System; Richard Nixon the EPA, George H.W. Bush gave us the nation's first cap-and-trade program (acid rain) and George W. Bush gave us our nation's Renewable Fuel Standard after putting in place, as Texas Governor, one of the most aggressive wind energy portfolios in the nation.  Unconventional wisdom might better instruct us that new opportunities are just around the corner.

I will remain the optimist.


24 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. MichaelBowman says:

    (Pols – this is my guest essay that ran last week in the DP.  According to our Colorado Voices agreement it can be re-published.  I wasn't clear how it should be attributed within the text of the diary.  If you need to edit it, please do so.) 

  2. mamajama55 says:

    At dinner last night, my stepmother mentioned a great Post op-ed about "turning the Keystone on its side", and how wind energy would give us more energy and jobs than the Keystone pipeline would.

    My Boston relatives were curious about the waste of potable water through fracking.

    People are taking notice, even though the Post tried to undermine you by chopping off your essay. smiley

  3. Diogenesdemar says:

    (Great article, but,)

    Whadaya' say, Michael . . . 

    . . . how about we construct just 34,334 windmills . . .

    . . . and use those last 3 sections to shove up the Kochs' asses?!?

  4. davebarnes says:

    I support KeystoneXL as it will fuck Nicolás.

  5. Voyageur says:

    Mike, the big problem with intermittent sources like solar and wind is storing them until we need them. I was with Public Service Co when they built the cabin creek pumped storage project. Converting wind and solar to hydro on demand seems to me like the best plan. With a drought_stricken west dotted with mostly empty rreservoirs like lake Powell, is anyone considering converting them to pumped storage reservoirs?

  6. MichaelBowman says:

    I think most of the pumped-hydro plans have been scrapped.  There is so much new technology coming on board – thanks to investments by DOE and Elon Musk – that the conversation has completely flipped from storing energy in large projects to a more distributed approach.  The 'intermittent' argument has worn thin (and was largely a myth anyway); while it was a valid argument 10 years ago – it's no longer applicable.  (not that that will keep the Fossilonians from using it in ad nausea)

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