Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

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August 18, 2013
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Experts hone in Obama's energy plan at ARE Day summit in Aspen

After speakers devoted much of the first two days of the ARE Day summit to the future of developing cleaner energy sources, two representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy were on stage Saturday to clarify some of the key issues with the current presidential energy plan.

The theme for Saturday morning’s “Armchair Conversation” was “Inside the President’s Energy and Climate Action Plan,” with host Bill Ritter, the former Colorado governor and the founding director of the Center for New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.

Bill Becker, the executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, was scheduled to host the conversation but had to cancel because of illness.

The two featured speakers were Heidi VanGenderen and Michael Carr, both of whom work for the U.S. Department of Energy. VanGenderen is a Colorado native who previously served as the state’s first gubernatorial climate advisor.

Carr is the principal deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He possesses an extensive background working in technology development, financing and early commercialization of emergent-energy and energy-efficiency programs.

The tone of their conversation was different than most at the ARE Day summit. While many speakers had a more urgent tone for immediate environmental action, VanGenderen and Carr spent most of their time on stage explaining policies.

VanGenderen began the talks by reiterating some of the key points from President Barack Obama’s energy plan as well as revisiting the president’s second inaugural speech as a platform for discussion.

“The president issued a climate plan recognizing full well that he holds strong responsibility and authority within the executive branch,” she said. “But it is not sufficient to address the climate challenge”

She touched on the fact that the biggest component of the plan is the regulation of power plants, deploying clean energy, modernizing the current power grid and unlocking long-term investment in clean-energy innovations.

“We’re not going to wean ourselves from fossil fuels the day after tomorrow,” VanGenderen said. “The question is how do we use fossil fuels as cleanly as possible, and what are the technological innovations that can make that happen?”

Carr then talked about the advancement of energy technology in the past 10 to 15 years and how limited the options were back then compared with right now.

“Things have changed dramatically,” Carr said. “We’re really at a place where the new energy technologies can enter the markets in a very price-competitive way. The technologies have come an incredibly long way.”

Following what many speakers have pointed out this weekend, Carr said the current U.S. energy infrastructure is old and needs an upgrade — and not with the same old technology.

“We foresee trillions of dollars being invested in new energy over the next few decades,” Carr said. “It’s our role to make sure the U.S. leads that technological revolution that’s going to go on across the globe.”

Ritter then asked both speakers what they’re excited about inside the Department of Energy.

“There were two things that came out of the president’s speech (in June) that really resonated with me,” Carr said. “One is that the obligation is now. It’s a moral obligation not to burden the next generation with how we deal with this energy problem. The other thing is the opportunity is now. We don’t have to wait, the technologies are here. There’s a new urgency to act — today — and that’s refreshing and invigorating.”

VanGenderen said it’s good to see U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz calling for his department to step up working on climate action plans at the state level.

She also said it’s still exciting to work with the current administration, especially a president with the vision to address renewable energies.

“Within the DOE, there are a lot of people who are major fans of the president,” VanGenderen said. “We’re ready to do his bidding and support him in every way we can.”

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The Aspen Times Updated Aug 18, 2013 06:19PM Published Aug 19, 2013 06:47PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.