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March 6, 2014
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Vail Daily column: Better than the pow

Folks fresh from first tracks (you could tell by the hair and powder day glow) mixed with lots of suits practically shouting “I’m not from around here” as the third Global Energy Forum got rolling last Saturday morning.

Let’s just say, ahem, the snow made me a little tardy and leave it at that, shall we?

I walked into nearly a full house in the main level of the Vilar, with Gov. Hickenlooper hosting a panel discussion with energy company leaders and Fred Krupp, longstanding president of the Environmental Defense Fund, about how they reached what they described as the toughest air emission rules for oil and gas operations of any state.

The audience was warmer, and better informed, than some of the Colorado localities where advocates and local politicians have encouraged a dim view of fracking in their neighborhoods, possible statewide referendum to follow in the fall.

No offense to the oil company leaders on the panel, but the rock star was Krupp, a practical-minded environmentalist who has pioneered market solutions to tough problems, like selling credits associated with acid rain, and partnered with larger companies such as FedEx and Walmart to ease their environmental impact.

But if the Environmental Defense Fund leader was a rock star, George Shultz was positively godlike. He spoke twice, and concluded the forum Sunday sitting in a chair onstage, hands clasped at his chest, reflecting with tack-sharp observations about the forum and America’s vastly improved footing in energy resources.

Listening to him alone, at 93 easily the smartest person in a room of America’s brightest, was worth the price of admission.

The hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, so feared with so little cause by the public has evolved over the past 60-70 years that the discussion about “peak oil” is a forgotten memory. That and all the advancements in horizontal drilling.

America has the means of energy independence now, and this has changed everything.

America also remains far and away the innovator of the big new improvements in energy technology, speakers acknowledged throughout the forum, although China leads in that crucial next step in making innovations affordable.

I’m mostly thinking about China’s work with making solar panels much less expensive. Considering the masks and athletic field bubble in Shanghai, they have plenty of pressure to break with that dirty coal powering their economic surge.

The organizers of the forum want to make it a sort of Davos of energy, modeled after the world’s pre-eminent economic forum held in another ski town.

People come to our event from across the country and some even internationally. At a dinner after the forum ended Sunday, I met an inventor who had a hand in developing Siri and does a lot with the energy field.

“So we have you to blame!” I joked with her as we chatted. She said her husband was the first to hear Siri talk. Hey, I was impressed.

The core of the forum still is Stanford and Jay Precourt’s energy institutes based there, to be sure. And the conference again was well laden with fossil fuels folk vs. all the renewable energy efforts out there. Some would say dominated.

But then again, the actual state of energy will be dominated by fossil fuels out of necessity for a long time to come. The ratio of presentation and discussions was about right for the reality, actually.

Still, I’d advocate for a little more room for the renewable aspect and the crazy-sounding innovations in energy sources, efficiencies and the long-term future in that quest for Davos, along with maybe more of other energy think tanks and such participating.

Keep bringing in leaders from Google and FedEx, for sure. Those speakers arguably were the most entertaining, and interesting, along with broadening the scope of the forum.

While I’m condensing two days of at times fascinating presentations and insights — if you are of a certain mind, of course; it ain’t People magazine fascinating — let me just say you should go.

We lay people are rather woefully uninformed, and this is a great way to catch up with the latest in energy, which has such huge implications for how we live day to day, as well as our economy, politics, relations with other countries and even probably on whether certain wars are fought.

The level of discourse struck a very good balance between technical and general so that even you and I can understand what the CEOs, scientists, investors, economists and politicians had to say.

I’d go so far as to declare this mountain town heresy: It was even worth cutting a powder day short.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2920.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 6, 2014 09:38PM Published Mar 10, 2014 06:31PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.