Dear Editor:

We are on the front edge of a new and exciting kind of job and business era in Archuleta County. One that could provide real living wages without the boom/bust uncertainty some have accepted as a given. The BoCC (and Town Council) recently set aside money in our budgets to encourage private investment in geothermal.

Basic geothermal research is one thing our local governments actually should be investing in. I support investing a very small amount of money to gather the information that can launch a whole new industry here. But we have to also minimize the risk to the taxpayers by assuring access to the product of that risk (water, heat, and information) for any and all new uses and businesses that come forward.

That is why my support of spending the money we set aside will hinge on, among other things, us having a much clearer picture of the risks, a better contract that guarantees use and public ownership of any discovered geothermal water or data, and assurance that this is not a warmup to saddling the taxpayers with a bigger bill (subsidy) for development of the resources.

This is how it should be. The whole purpose is to attract private investment. If we don’t see that investment very soon, we should stop and rethink, not just keep spending.

For many years our challenge has been not enough businesses that provide long-term good-paying jobs. In other words, instability. Leadership choices (even recently) to pursue and promote businesses and projects that, from the start, have no hope of providing good-paying jobs or stability, have made us more vulnerable to outside forces and dependent mega-corporate decisions, not less. If done right, geothermal (and biomass) will do the opposite.

This is the first time I have seen decisions in line with the new economic reality. I am cautiously hopeful that the message we began delivering when we founded the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership in 2008, has reached the minds and imaginations of local leaders. That is, if we play our cards well, local “perpetual” fuels like geothermal and biomass can help us create good jobs that stick.

The key is locally owned or headquartered companies, capitalizing on local perpetual fuels like geothermal and biomass, produce better local jobs (wealth) and products (energy and food) that benefit us here in Archuleta County first. It will require a kind of modern business maturity, demand for the details up front, and patience our local governments have yet to demonstrate consistently.

The jobs, food, and power based on new and reliable geothermal will also be new and reliable, and higher paying. Of every dollar spent on locally grown food, 95 cents stays here at home. For every dollar spent on “imported” big-corporate food, jobs, and energy, 80 cents leaves the county. Only if we are smart, deliberate, thoughtful and open, can geothermal help turn that around. But it is worth this small risk.

Michael Whiting

This story was posted on November 7, 2013.