Have you had your fill? The government doesn’t think so

My family and I just took our fourth trip to Denver in the last month. To be honest, it was the family twice and my wife alone for two of them. Nonetheless, we’ve driven up and over the mountains a total of eight times over that span. Since I’m not big on driving, and my wife is our family’s version of Danica Patrick, let’s just say I get a lot of time to observe and put items in to the abyss that is my mind.

And now something has bubbled to the surface in the cauldron that is my cranial matter.

It involves all of the stuff I saw during those trips that’s created, built, came to fruition and operating — all without the help of government.

The stimulus (well, sadly, it’s the right word!) for this simmering in my brain is an invitation the Business Times received from the City of Grand Junction inviting folks to the ribbon cutting for “the first public/private compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station in Western Colorado.” My first reaction was a tad snarky as I wondered why the city didn’t promote this as “the largest CNG fueling station between Denver and Salt Lake,” but I suppose that marketing will come when the station actually is meeting some type of demand.

So instead, I’ll stick to the basics as I see things in the marketplace. Chicken and egg references aside, I simply don’t see any economic or marketplace reason for this type of facility. So naturally, this is exactly the type of business the government would put over a million dollars into so that folks like Governor Hickenlooper and our list of local celebrity camera hawks can get their picture taken and say the right things.

Now, you might argue that this is a growing opportunity as many companies and fleets switch over to CNG to operate their vehicles. I challenge you to name someone you know who’s driving a CNG vehicle that isn’t part of a government funded entity on either end. Call Bozarth and Western Slope Auto and ask them just how many CNG vehicles they have on the lot for you to purchase. As far as I know, the only folks with CNG vehicles in our area are the government. And as government logic dictates, it must build a facility to meet this growing demand. Now they don’t call it taxpayer money, but just who do you think funds the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office?

I guess that’s why we have special funds and grants available, so government can fill the void when there’s absolutely no demand.

Contrast this with my family’s trip to Denver. The hotel we stayed at was older, but its service was top notch — and, of course, the hotel was full. The places we went for dinner were absolutely packed and we either needed reservations or had to wait for a table. The parking lot at the mall was so full it was a longer walk to get to its doors than it was to get to the doors of the government-run Avalon Theater with all of the construction around it that my family endured the week before.

And all of this was accomplished without the government investing millions of taxpayer dollars from the “Governor’s Special Fund as Things Relate to all Things Cheesecake Special Restaurant Operating Grant Stimulus Fund” so the government could begin pumping cheesecake into the few public employees who don’t necessarily have to eat cheesecake, but we spent a boatload of money converting them to have the desire to do so. And, of course, like our new CNG filling station, we also didn’t have to hope there will be sufficient interest from the private sector over time to take over the business. The Cheesecake Factory already took care of that. And at $7.50 a slice and its knee-weakening taste, let me add they’re doing a bang-up job.

I would commend the city on this facility if it actually had a study showing just how much, and how quickly, taxpayers would realize a savings from using CNG to power its vehicles. But at 60 cents a gallon savings taken against an “over-million-dollar” (how far over we don’t know) price tag, just how long might that take? Quick and dirty math says it will take 1.6 million gallons of CNG to just break even on the cost, and that’s without operating costs, price fluctuations that are sure to occur and the inevitable shortage of CNG as we begin to use more of it and less of oil-related products.

A final argument might be attempted by stating the CNG station must be a good idea since Encana has donated to the project. The simple answer is some company has to sell the city the gas, may as well be them. Obviously, Encana sensed a demand (however contrived it may be) in the marketplace and beat its competition to the punch.

This nation’s greatness has been built on entrepreneurs in the free market meeting and creating demands in the marketplace. It’s the second main reason for our wealth and enhanced way of living — with faith in God, of course, being the first.

Just how far do you see us going with our government creating a demand where there is none—and using your tax money to pay for it?