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Guest column: Civil dialogue is needed on Colorado’s energy future

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They say you shouldn’t talk politics, religion or money in polite company. We disagree. We believe that controversial issues deserve collaborative and innovative problem solving working to keep Colorado as one of the best places to live. The Bighorn Energy Leadership Fellows spent eight days together this fall doing exactly that over three meals a day, presentations from 31 local and international experts, and one improv comedy show. We stayed polite and disagreed without being disagreeable.

We are Coloradans from across the political spectrum, hailing from around the state, ranging from college student to near retirement, and working in a variety of sectors. We are members of the 2017 cohort of Bighorn Leadership Program: Colorado’s Energy Future. The Bighorn Leadership Program was founded in 2001 to ensure that Colorado has a deep bench of thoughtful individuals who will actively and constructively engage in the public policy arena both on the local and state levels.

Over the years, Bighorn Fellows delved into vexing policy topics, including health care, economic development and — this year — energy. Specifically, exploring one of the most controversial issues facing Colorado today: How is Colorado going to continue its economic growth, satisfy a growing population, and yet provide energy in a safe, efficient, affordable and most environmentally and socially sustainable way possible?

Colorado leads the country in energy by numerous measures. Since the first oil well west of the Mississippi River drilled into Florence soil in 1860, our state has become one of the top energy producers in the country while valuing our quality of life and environment. This didn’t happen by accident; it was the result of good policy enacted by the legislature, the voters, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

In 2004, Colorado voters passed the Renewable Energy Requirement Initiative, the first voter-led statewide initiative of its kind. As of 2016, Colorado was ranked 10th in installed solar generation and was the seventh largest wind producing state. We’ve since increased the standard three times, and the current target is 30 percent renewable by 2020 for investor-owned utilities and 20 percent for cooperative utilities.

The renewable sector is not the only energy sector where Colorado is providing leadership. As the state’s population grows, natural gas drilling and exploration are bumping up against urban and suburban residential areas. Of course, Coloradans are concerned about this, and there has been significant progress in this area. In 2014, Colorado adopted rules for capturing methane and decreasing harmful carbon-based pollutants, rules that are now a national model not only in technical specifications but also in collaboration among environmental groups, the oil and gas industry, and regulators. Colorado’s work inspired other states to adopt similar methane standards.

We offer to be a resource for the continued leadership in Colorado’s energy future, for policymakers, companies leading the way, and our fellows Coloradans. Collectively, our group knows the science of solar panels, wind turbines and hydraulic fracturing equally as well as we know the regulatory environment, policy making, and electoral politics. We understand the public safety and national security implications of energy choices. We know the economics of Colorado’s energy industry (renewables, natural gas and fossil fuel), and that it employs over 270,000 of our neighbors and creating nearly $15 billion in economic impact. If energy was a poker game, Colorado has more cards to play than most states.

Energy policy is complicated, but oversimplified rhetoric is not the answer. Coloradans are collaborative, innovative and cutting edge. The future of energy policy in our state cannot be a zero-sum game consisting of winners and losers. Let’s solve this evolving and complex issue within city halls, the capitol, boardrooms and neighborhoods, where ideas can be discussed in transparent and public settings. We can balance economic growth and provide energy in a safe, efficient, affordable and most environmentally and socially sustainable way. And yes, we, the undersigned are ready and willing to help achieve this vision.

By Amber Rivera; Julia Kiewit; Deb Overn; Doug Campbell; Hunter Dunham; Jennifer Gremmert; Julie Murphy; Ellen Kutzer; Kirsten Skeehan; Hunter Dunham; Don Van Gilder; Marcus Fotenos; Mirka della Cava; Paul Majors, PE; Sarah Derdowski; Sarah Moss, MPA; Scott Yenzer; Bill LeBlanc; Joe Jefferson; Jariah Walker; Sean Holveck; Rachel Eisenstat and Steve Cummings, NCARB. Reach the Bighorn Leadership Fellows via program director Brenda Morrison, brenda@EngagedPublic.com.

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