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Denver seeks to innovate on energy

Allen Best

DENVER – Looking at the world’s unstable and perhaps dwindling supplies of oil as well as the changing climate, a Denver-based economic development group this week called for improved energy efficiency on the part of businesses.”A paradigm shift is underway,” and Metro Denver is playing a key role, said Peter Dea, chief executive of Western Gas Resources, , he added.He and other speakers at a session held in Denver Friday morning talked about a broader, three-legged approach that hope will make Metro Denver the “Balanced Energy Capital of the West.”In one example of energy efficiency cited by the speakers, an office complex in Denver was retrofitted in 1996. The investment was repaid in three years with lower energy costs.Dea said across Metro Denver, $595 million investment in energy efficiency can yield savings of $1.9 billion in energy costs during the next 20 years. That improved efficiency will also eliminate demand for a 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant.Drilling for natural gas in the Rocky Mountain region, which has 25 percent of the nation’s supplies of natural gas supplies, will continue to be needed, said Dea. But he, and other business leaders in the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation also see an urgent need to develop wind and solar resources, which are abundant in portions of the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains. As well, there were calls for development of more nuclear power.

The vulnerability of destination ski resorts to global warming and dwindling energy supplies was explained by Auden Schendler, the environmental coordinator for the Aspen Skiing Co. The bulk of Aspen’s business, he said, is from out-of-state visitors, who consume great amounts of energy in getting to Aspen. In doing so, they’re adding great quantities of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere, which in turn is already or will soon cause temperatures to warm, causing shorter and warmer winters, particularly at night, with more erratic precipitation.The oil shale deposits in Colorado and Utah, which some have liked to the oil deposits of Saudi Arabia, are not the answer, said Schendler. “If we try to take all the oil shale and burn it, it’ll be at the cost of our business for sure,” he said.Dea was less optimistic that oil shale reserves will remain untapped. “It depends upon the American consumer,” he said. He noted that 60 percent of oil used by U.S. consumers is imported, and that percentage is likely to rise – making the U.S. ever more vulnerable to geopolitical tensions that the oil, in part, is creating. That vulnerability makes improved efficiency imperative, he said.”This is a national security issue as much as anything, and climate change is a component of that,” Schendler said.Aspen’s primary goal is to use its prominence to help lobby for significant change in policy. “We’re really in a bind, and we have a deep interest in what happens next,” Schendler said.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper also addressed the uncertainty about the role of greenhouse gases in the global warming currently underway. Although a majority of scientists embrace the theory of greenhouse warming, some reject it, and a few have even called it a “hoax.” With the arrival in theaters of the Al Gore movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” conservative-oriented columnists have been charging fascism in the climate change debate.”As a recovering scientist,” said Hickenlooper, a former oil exploration geologist, “I know it’s hard to get absolute certainty on anything.'”Still, he added, the preponderance of evidence supports the theory. But even if the chances of environmental catastrophe are slim, that means “the unthinkable is possible.”The Katrina devastation in New Orleans proved that slim possibilities should be taken seriously, he added.The business leaders were not in complete agreement about what needs to happen next, but all indicated that sustained higher energy prices are needed to give entrepreneurs and innovators the opportunity and incentives to create changes. “It’s very clear to me that we are moving to a world of carbon constraints,” said Vijay Vaitheeswaran, the energy writer for The Economist magazine and also author of “Power to the People,” a book about the future of energy.”Energy, oil and the environment – is there really any other issue now?” he asked. “The way fossil fuels are now being used is unsustainable, he added. While Vaitheeswaran believes the energy industry has been among the least innovative of any sector, he sees a new time ahead of innovation not seen since the time of Thomas Edison. But he does not see value in federal dictates, such as stricter standards governing automobile efficiency. Instead, he favors a carbon tax that then gives the private sector choices in figuring out efficiencies.One imperative change, said Dea, is to reduce the role of oil in providing transportation. Alternatives to petroleum exist or can be developed, he said. But no alternatives exist or are likely for plastics and many other petrochemical-based goods that have immeasurably improved the quality of lives.Vail, Colorado


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