Energy Forum & Expo focus is on the future
Rarely does a week go by without a story about energy development making headlines in The Daily Sentinel.
Over the past 60 years, the region has seen its economic fortunes rise and fall with uranium prices, oil shale development and natural gas production.
Some painful lessons occurred along the way (Black Monday, anyone?), leading to the creation of an economic development coalition with the express purpose of diversifying the local economy so that it would never be overly dependent on energy jobs.
But an enterprising trio of women recognized the opportunity to exploit both the region’s heritage and its potential with regard to energy development. In 2006, former Mesa County Commissioner Kathy Hall, newly named Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen and event manager George Rossman put on the first Energy Forum & Expo at Two Rivers Convention Center
“It started as an offshoot of the Riverview Technology Corporation,” Petersen said in a recent interview. “One of the community’s requests was that we expand the Department of Energy’s role in Grand Junction by focusing on energy-related issues.”
An expo seemed like a perfect event to dovetail with the annual West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association banquet held every year in February. But the founders knew they didn’t want the expo to be exclusively about oil and gas issues.
“We never wanted the expo to be about any particular type of energy,” Hall said. “The focus of the expo has never changed. We’ve always been about looking at the future of energy and positioning ourselves to develop western Colorado’s vast natural resources in an environmentally-sensitive way to secure a strong economic base and a safe, prosperous future for our children.”
Western Colorado is uniquely positioned to meet the country’s demand for more energy – whether it’s clean or conventional.
“You name it, we have it: coal, gas, oil shale, uranium, solar, geothermal and on and on,” Hall said.
“We even have great potential with biomass energy because of the beetle-kill in our forests,” Petersen said. “We have just about everything but wind.”
The women explained their vision for an expo to Club 20, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and local educational institutions.
“Everybody thought it was a great idea,” Hall said, “but we didn’t know how we were going to pay for it.”
Starting with some seed money from the Riverview Technology Corporation, the expo founders rented the convention center and set out finding corporate sponsors to underwrite the event.
“We wanted our major sponsors to be community businesses, not energy companies and we’ve been fortunate to have strong support from local companies who see the expo as benefiting the community,” Hall said.
Over the years, the expo committee has succeeded on several fronts. One goal was simply to educate people about developments in the energy field.
“We wanted to do that for several reasons,” Hall said. “One was to initiate partnerships with local educational institutions to provide skills students will need for future jobs in the energy industry. If you look at Mesa State, the curriculum under the energy umbrella is growing.”
Another facet of the educational component was creating an informed citizenry to effect change.
“Energy development, even on a global scale, affects us regionally and locally,” Hall said. “All political issues start at home and we need our citizens to be informed constituents who force elected leaders to do the right thing when it comes to sensible energy policy.”
The focus of the expo remains the future. Speakers are invited to discuss renewables, new research and long-term projections.
“We always want to talk about where we’ll be 20 or 30 years from now and how we can position ourselves to take advantage of those forecasts,” Hall said.
The expo organizing committee approves all speakers and vendors to ensure that the information provided to attendees is relevant and represents best practices and cutting-edge technologies.