Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

Soren Hermansen is a farmer from a tiny island in the small country of Denmark. He makes me proud of my Danish heritage because his island, Samsø, is energy independent.

I asked Soren during a presentation he gave last week at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies if the people of Samsø are happier as a result of their energy independence. “Not necessarily happier,” he said. “But we have confidence in ourselves for what we have done.”

This confidence, explained Soren, is in part derived from the heritage of the Vikings, who rowed long boats across the sea in a measure of commitment that is far beyond our ken. Legend has it that on one foreign shore the Vikings were met by a formal delegation that demanded to speak with the Viking leader. “We’re all leaders!” replied the Vikings.

Citizens of Samsø are all leaders for declaring energy independence through a financial commitment that cost the 4,000 inhabitants $75 million to construct solar, wind and biomass power plants. Today, Samsø exports some of its green energy to the mainland, reaping income on renewable energy investments.

The main idea behind Samsø’s success is pragmatic. “We’re not a bunch of organic hippies,” laughed Soren as he described rural, agricultural islanders who demonstrated their civic vitality to the rest of the world in order to ensure their economic survival.

The idea for green, sustainable energy really began in 1985, when the people of Denmark said no to nuclear power. An alternative energy contest was held nationwide, and Samsø’s demonstration project won. “We got the blacksmith and the plumber to agree that this was a good idea,” explained Soren, suggesting that if “Joe the Plumber” could recognize the value of a long-term vision for clean, sustainable energy, then the battle was won for community support.

Involvement was the key. Through education and volunteerism, the energy program moved into the mainstream. Economic incentives convinced citizens that they could enhance their livelihoods through the construction of alternative energy systems like district heating and rooftop solar.

“The people learned that it was better to have their money on their roofs in solar panels than to have it in the banks,” said Soren. The people of Samsø realized a kind of “energy democracy,” in which the people shared in the costs and rewards of the island’s homegrown energy grid.

Since 1997, when the plan was instituted, the island of Samsø has reduced its carbon footprint by 140 percent, explained Soren. Wind turbines churn out kilowatts, solar panels heat water and produce electricity, and generators burn wood chips and straw.

Samsø is a windy place where sea breezes are consistent, and Denmark has for centuries used windmills to power machines. It wasn’t a leap in application, but rather a step up in technological sophistication, that gave Samsø its energy edge with wind power, which provides most of Samsø’s electricity.

Here in sunny Colorado, we have incredible solar potential. Rare, however, is the house in our valley equipped with solar panels, and rarer still is the subdivision that employs anything like district heating. Mine is the only home in my subdivision that captures the sun to off-set the expensive propane that fuels most of our heating in rural Eagle County.

The plumber and the blacksmith are allegorical to the working people who install and service heating and energy systems. We need to enlist them as they did on Samsø to initiate the changes that could make our valley an example for energy independence.

Carbondale already boasts a huge photovoltaic solar array at the CRMS campus, and the Aspen Skiing Co. is leading the way in green building technologies, micro-hydroelectric applications and, eventually, wind power atop Snowmass Ski Area. All we need now is the Viking spirit of commitment and leadership that could link our valley to Samsø and provide us the same high level of confidence as global citizens.

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