Yes to Sunflowers, No to Coal Plants

posted by scott parkin

It’s been a tough week for the climate movement as Tim DeChristopher, one of our strongest and most articulate voices, was sent to prison for two years.

But amidst the crappy news about Tim, deCarbonize Colorado and other groups in Boulder gave us a bit of an uplifting story. Last year, activists organized an occupation action at the Valmont coal plant in Boulder where five were arrested. Soon after their action, the Boulder City Council voted to close the Valmont plant by 2017. That wasn’t good enough for them, so  last weekend they turned out 150 folks who rode their bikes to the Valmont plant and then did a massive guerrilla gardening action on the plant’s property.

Here’s the reportback from one of the activists working to end coal in Colorado:

On Saturday, August 16 close to 150 Boulder residents took part in a creative and empowering direct action at the Valmont Coal Plant in support of energy localization and local food. After a community bike ride from downtown Boulder, folks of all ages planted sunflowers — known for their use in natural soil remediation projects — on a vacant lot at the gates of the Valmont Coal Plant. The activists were calling for the immediate shut-down of the Valmont Coal Plant, as well as urging the City of Boulder to cut its ties with Xcel Energy and to create a truly sustainable community built on local democracy, locally-generated energy and locally-produced food.

Folks gathered in downtown Boulder for a free breakfast (complete with French Toast!) provided by the local chapter of Food Not Bombs. The community bike ride, which included a large contingent of children and families, occupied major east-west thoroughfares as we made the 5 mile trek to the Valmont Coal Plant, located east of town. Small teams of bikers carefully managed traffic in the intersections to ensure the safe passage of everyone on the bike ride, as folks enjoyed chants, small talk and a beautiful summer day.

After roughly an hour of pedaling from downtown Boulder, we arrived at the Valmont Coal Plant in high spirits. Community members started to turn over soil to prepare the ground for planting, while others erected signs reading “Our Power Our Future Our Choice”, “Planting a Clean Future”, and “Coal Plant in Transition.” We then planted sunflowers at the gates of the coal plant, to begin the transition away from dirty fossil fuels in our community. Sunflowers are useful in the soil remediation process, as they are able to extract arsenic and other coal-plant pollutants, out of the soil. They are also an example of a natural, sustainable and community-scale solution to the problems associated with coal and other fossil fuels.


Thanks to much community involvement, Boulder is well on its way to cutting its ties with Xcel Energy, a Minnesota-based, monopoly utility company that generates 90% of its electricity from fossil fuels. A ballot measure passed by a large margin last November allowed the city to take the first steps toward creating a publicly-owned municipal utility. This November, voters will have the opportunity to establish a municipal utility. Such a change would enable democratic decision-making over the source of our electricity, dramatically expand locally-generated renewable energy and — in tandem with efforts to expand the production of local food — help create a thriving and sustainable local community.

Solidarity to Tim DeChristopher and all our Rocky Mountain comrades from Utah to Montana.