SustainAbility: Economic development

More than 80 people gathered at Mesa State College on June 30 for a whirlwind 90-minute planning session focused on one goal for Mesa County: Become an epicenter for energy innovation.

The Economic Development Partners of Mesa County, composed of 20 local organizations, is creating an economic development plan for the county from the bottom up. The energy goal is the first of three goals which will go through a deliberate process.

Participants came from diverse business backgrounds and viewpoints. I didn’t know anyone at my table, but it turned out to be an interesting group. One person owns restaurants and another an employment agency.

A husband and wife team owns a four-wheel drive education and expedition company with an environmental bent. Another tablemate has lived in a house with solar power for 20 years and is now in solar sales. Others are connected with the Business Incubator Center and the Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Each table got to choose from nine questions to determine specific action steps toward the goal. Options included development of new and emerging technologies from existing energy sources, renewable energy and non-traditional sources, such as oil shale.

Other questions examined how to promote research and development of energy technologies at Mesa State and develop partnerships with existing research centers in the state, such as National Renewable Research Laboratory or Colorado School of Mines.

Steps to start new energy businesses, enhance utilization of compressed natural gas resources and assist current gas and coal producers in addressing regulatory barriers were also included. The final question solicited “Big Hairy Audacious Ideas” for reaching the goal.

The brainstorming process produced a wealth of ideas with overlapping themes. Almost all of the groups agreed collaboration and partnerships were essential. There was also a call for inventories of existing resources and roadblocks.

Education, in its many forms, and research were other priorities. College students could learn energy innovation through specific undergraduate and graduate programs taught by cutting-edge educators and take part in research. These students would be well-prepared to share their knowledge and creativity in the local work force.

Exploring workable approaches to energy development used by other states or countries and tapping into innovative energy experts through local symposiums and conferences were common themes.

An education and public relations effort will enlighten the broader community about all types of energy and the extractive resources which support them. One table decided we should become the most energy efficient community in the world.

Several groups identified decreasing and streamlining regulations as a big step toward improving energy innovation.

Once the most popular ideas from each group were presented, we voteed for our favorite action step. I voted for one of the audacious ideas, creating a Western Center for Energy Independence in Grand Junction, including a data center. This idea sounded similar to the recently established Water Center at Mesa State.

Prior to the planning session, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce distributed a survey and received more than 300 responses. Some results were predictable while others were surprising.

Only about 10 percent of the respondents were actually in the energy industry and 46 percent of all the companies had less than 10 employees, so the results were not biased toward big energy companies.

While the majority of those surveyed first think of natural gas when considering job creation in energy innovation, equal numbers think of solar and other renewable sources and oil shale.

More than 200individuals commented on major opportunities in job creation for the energy sector. Responses ran the gamut of all types of energy. Various renewable sources were mentioned as well as the old standbys. though some emphasized safe, environmentally friendly extraction endeavors.

Many comments stressed opportunities will come from all types of sources and perhaps this perspective is closest to the truth. Once we are able to focus on our shared goals of providing energy and preserving our amazing natural environment, we can form respectful, effective partnerships.

Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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