Gov. Bill Ritter, Jr.: “We are in an energy transition in America”

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Jr., Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy, will moderate the opening Plenary Session at ELEMCON on May 15.

We asked the governor to share his thoughts on energy policy.

Q. Tell us about your current work.

A.  I did a lot of work on energy policy while I was governor. When I left office in 2011, I immediately started a center at Colorado State University and called it the Center for the New Energy Economy. Our work is primarily with states. We work on energy policy. We’re really stubborn about working with both Republicans and Democrats, including governors, state legislators, and the regulators of utilities. We know the world is transitioning, and that energy is transitioning. What role should policy play in shaping that transition? How can we assist stakeholders and policymakers in their efforts? Policy at the state level is where the big game is today. The United States Congress has not passed a comprehensive energy policy for the past decade or more. So a big part of why we’re doing the work we do is that at the state level we must be sure the people working on energy policy are fully informed and thoughtful about how to go forward

Q. What sort of dialog is required today, if we want a new energy economy?

A. There are a variety of things we can talk about. Certainly there are multiple public health issues that we have to be concerned with when we have a strictly fossil fuel economy, and I think not all fossil fuels are created equal. Different pollutants have different public health impacts. There are some real advantages in new energy that you can discuss without ever mentioning climate change when you address public health issues. Also, there are all sorts of ways that you can look at this and understand there’s job creation and business development that happens in states that have a robust clean energy economy. So there’s something here for everybody. We work with people who don’t think climate change is the number one problem by trying to identify the business opportunity and the public health risks.

Q. What are some of the leading trends the business community is focusing on in terms of energy management right now?

A. There are so many different trends! The public utilities in America are one of the biggest sectors in terms of energy delivery and they are really focusing on a couple of things. Number one is that there’s de-carbonization in our future and how do utilities get there? Secondly, they’re focused on how do they get there and maintain their rates and their affordability and reliability and the resilience of the grid? Those are all part of it, but as well they’re trying to find a 21st century business model, and that means they’re trying to find ways to increase electricity demand, even with less carbon intensity. So electric vehicles will pay a role in that, as will electrification inside of homes where you may have some thermal heating. In addition, many big players in the business sector are saying we want to make sure our energy usage is a clean as it can possibly be. Many are leading the utility sector and purchasing power on their own, going out on the market and purchasing power that’s clean, renewable power from independent power providers. You’ve seen Microsoft and MGM Grande do that. Finally, in all of the business sectors we’re seeing a greater reliance on energy efficiency, thinking about ways to use less energy going forward, with job creation going to the thinking as well as an understanding that it’s all part of de-carbonization.

Q. If you wanted to make sure ELEMCON attendees walk away with one message, what would it be?

A. That we are in an energy transition in America; you might even call it an energy revolution. The sort of the things that the Trump Administration is saying about resuscitating the coal sector are not likely to happen, because this transition is driven more by the market than by regulation. It’s driven by low prices for natural gas and for renewables, and our business should be thinking about how to make that transition in a way that really addresses some of the biggest problems, including climate change and how we reduce carbon pollution from that. The transition is happening and we all have a role in trying to manage that transition toward a carbonless future and certainly toward deep de-carbonization in the next twenty to twenty five years.

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