Experts hone in Obama’s energy plan at ARE Day summit in Aspen |

Experts hone in Obama’s energy plan at ARE Day summit in Aspen

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

Michael Carr (left) and Heidi VanGenderen from the U.S. Department of Energy listen to moderator Bill Ritter pose a question Saturday morning during one of the armchair conversations as part of the AREDAY summit.
Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times |

After their “Armchair Conversation,” Heidi VanGenderen and Michael Carr took a moment to clarify several topics.

VanGenderen was asked to reiterate some of the key points she wanted to make at the ARE Day summit:

“We talked about the issuance of a presidential planet action plan, which is the first in the history of the country. It focuses on the responsibilities and authorities held by the executive branch of government to address human contribution to climate change.

“The president issued a speech at Georgetown University on (June 25). That was swiftly followed by an executive-branch climate plan that addresses again the actions that he wishes to see in his second term in office, as well as each of the key agencies that have responsibility and authority for executive actions that can be taken, and to follow on some that he’s already done. We’ve doubled renewable energy on public lands. He’s reissued a call to again double it in the next three and a half years.

“(Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard increases were mentioned.

“The Department of Energy has a lot of responsibility and authority in looking at captured methane emissions, looking at actions in energy efficiency and renewable energy through the implementation and expansion of a client’s standards. We have authority overlooking at adaptation plans as well as vulnerability reports that will better enable communities to withstand severe-weather events. We have grid-modernization authority that will work with utilities to look again at the infrastructure for the electric-delivery system.

“It can’t happen overnight. The energy economy is a substantial portion of our economy — it’s a big effort. Change can be quite rapid, but it’s not immediate.

“I was fortunate enough to work for Gov. (Bill) Ritter as the state’s first climate and energy advisor in the governor’s office, and we created a climate-action plan. The president took a note out of the state’s playbook and said we need to do this at the federal level. I think the president has a tremendous opportunity to continue to keep this issue in front of the American people and look at it through the lens of energy security, economic opportunity, environmental protection — all the things we care about.”

Carr said he now sees a window of opportunity to introduce new forms of renewable energy and was asked to expound upon that:

“I think the window’s open a crack but certainly not open to the extent it needs to be. There have been a few little windows. I was there for the 2007 energy bill, where we worked on creating the space for the CAFE requirements to be upgraded. That was a big part of that bill. It also laid down the foundation for increased energy efficiency.

“The biggest driver for why I think the window’s cracked open today is really the technology story. Solar, wind, geothermal and hydro are viable first-choice economic options. I don’t think you really could have said that very long ago. That really changes the game. We’re not really talking about forcing markets; we’re talking about getting out of the way of where markets really want to go. You have consumers who want to take these products in.

“Look at the explosion in third-party financing for solar panels across this country, and it’s driven entirely by consumer demand. People say, ‘I can put solar panels on my roof, and my energy bills go down, and I have no up-front costs? Sign me up!’ It provides this opportunity now where we have high-powered businesspeople that are in it to make money.

“That’s when clean energy takes off. When you have people who want to save the world but make money, too, it’s an opportunity to have some of those little barriers knocked down that are still in the way of the entrepreneurs producing and bringing these technologies out into the marketplace.

“It’s wonderful to have a president who recognizes we have a moral obligation to advance using cleaner energy going forward. It’s strong language but necessary. That’s nice and refreshing to hear, but the other part is recognizing the economic opportunity going forward.

“These are a series of win-win-win opportunities.”

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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