Back to School: Colorado Leaders Discuss the Need to Educate Consumers About Energy Issues
In a heated political environment, energy issues—from fracking to natural gas bans and energy access—can quickly become contentious topics. Even so, it is important for the industry and its partners to find ways to talk with the public about energy issues and how policies to restrict energy choice would affect business and household budgets.
Addressing the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s 34th Annual Energy Summit, Paula Beasley, communications advisor for Chevron, said:
“The oil and gas industry needs to find a way to rise above the political divide and find a common ground.”
This is especially true in Colorado, where there has long been a divide between urban and rural voters. Even during a period of heightened political polarization, kitchen table issues like energy costs and the energy transition can be unifying topics.
Gary Arnold, business manager of the Denver Pipefitters Local 208, whose members include utilities tradesmen who install and services natural gas appliances in homes and businesses, said:
“Our job as elected union officials is to advocate for our members and their jobs and that’s not a partisan issue.”
Because state and local officials are increasingly discussing net zero goals and potential natural gas bans, discussion of trade offs and externalities can be an important educational opportunity. Electrification has
Supporters of oil and natural gas need to help residents understand these trade-offs, according to several speakers throughout the summit.
Maria Garcia Barry of CRL Associates said that many Colorado communities are racing to adopt ambitious climate goals without considering if they could be achieved, let alone how much they would cost:
“There is almost a competition among cities about who is going to do what first and who is going to get [to net zero] first. Elected officials want to go out and say they were the first to do ABC [climate policies] whether anyone can actually execute ABC remains to be seen.”
This is especially true when talking about the limits of physical infrastructure, Arnold explained:
“What makes the most sense? What are the technical realities that our systems are bound to? How can we get from point A to point B without leaving anyone behind?”
Helping residents to understand the implications of energy policies—and the limits of existing technologies—is particularly important right now as city officials push additional changes. Because many voters are not familiar with the intricacies of how energy reaches their homes, there is an opportunity for the industry to inform them about ongoing sustainability efforts and the advantages of a system that uses both natural gas and electricity.
Jeff Lyng, vice president of energy and sustainability policy for Xcel Energy, agreed, saying that there was a need for a “portfolio of strategies” to reduce energy-related emissions without sacrificing reliability:
“For existing homes, which is the vast majority of where natural gas is used, replacing an air conditioner with a heat pump, but keeping a gas furnace for the coldest part of the day makes the most sense for the efficient of both end uses. We need to have more of a dialogue about that, [about] how we transition to enable this future. Without it we risk the failure of that system.”
Thankfully these figures believe that there is a large opening for industry—and its partners in labor and manufacturing—to get more people involved.
J.J. Ament, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, explained that his organization sought to play this role and that other should as well:
“Bringing in and convincing folks, helping people outside of your industry understand it, being aspirational but realistic, to measure if the policies are working, that’s the role the Chamber plays. We need to tell those other industries your story so you can have more advocates in the broader community.”
After all, he quipped:
“Public dialogue and discourse needs to find a way to find some space between my side’s utopia and your side’s apocalypse.”