Inside Energy: The Future of Energy Policy

Energy and energy economics have always been at the core of institutional specialty here at Mines. Colorado is a widely varied area of energy production and consumption, which makes it a unique place to research the effects of energy policies, some of which have been in place for over a century.

On Thursday, September 8th, “Inside Energy,” a collaborative radio-journalism project focused on energy issues throughout the country, hosted a panel of local energy economics experts to discuss current policy issues that will likely be contested during the presidential election this November.

About a hundred people were in attendance, and the event was staffed by volunteer graduate students of Mines’ economics department. The event was inspired by a similar one put on by Inside Energy in Wyoming, and a panel of experts was asked to discuss current issues of energy policy in Colorado.

The panel consisted of Dr. Ian Lange, Tracee Bentley, Lee  Boughey, and Meghan Nutting. It was moderated by Rebecca Jacobson and Jordan Wirfs-Brock.

Many topics were covered, including the worth of investing in job transitions for displaced coal mining communities, charging more for electricity during busier hours of the day, and Donald Trump’s proposition to reduce the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. These issues, among others, highlight several trends in the energy industry that have great potential to help or harm in the near future, and heavily depend upon who occupies the Oval Office.

The shift from coal-fired power plants to less emissive energy production methods is hotly debated between coal-mining communities and scientific experts.

“I think that public perception of climate change — what causes it, what its real impacts are — will have the most immediate impacts on energy policy,” stated Jacobson. “The term ‘war on coal’ has been tossed around as a way to put coal’s problems solely on changes in government regulation.”

The DNC’s Clean Power Plan is also debated thoroughly. The prospect of running the government entirely on clean energy is a huge positive for many; it has the potential for options.

“We can expect to see an evolution of the energy market from one of centralized generation distributed by monopoly utilities to a market that is much more dynamic,” stated Meghan Nutting.

“Finding cheaper alternatives to building new centralized power plants is becoming an increasingly popular option both for utilities and ratepayers across the country.” Many alternative energy sources, such as solar and geothermal energy, can be extremely profitable, cheap, and reliable when implemented in the right areas.

However, it seems to be the direction power utility companies are wanting to go in anyway.

“It’s basically Much Ado About Nothing,” stated Dr. Ian Lange. “Almost every projection of what the energy sector will do without the Clean Power Plan is the same projection of what they will do with the Clean Power Plan.”

Domestic energy implementation is a controversial issue, but international policy on carbon emissions is also being questioned, especially following the Paris Agreement.

“One of the most significant issues at stake in the current election is… whether we should participate in international efforts to do so or whether we should continue along a path of business as usual,” stated Nutting. The audience vote on the Paris Agreement at the panel was almost evenly divided, but was swayed in favor of supporting such international agreements.

Energy policy will continue to be a controversial topic in the United States no matter the outcome of this November’s election.

“Decisions made about energy policy now have repercussions for years to come,” stated Nutting. “Therefore, whoever wins the election will influence the makeup of our energy systems and markets long into the future by supporting policies that either incentivize or disincentivize the growth and adoption of various technologies and energy sources.

The upcoming presidential election will be a sparring ground between parties over many energy issues. One of the most anticipated topics is the Democratic party (DNC)’s Clean Power Plan, which includes nationwide implementation of new power grids and energy sources that may, for many states, be hard to create. Strict regulations on carbon emissions would also be implemented.

“It would mean big changes in how we manage our electric grid,” stated Rebecca Jacobson. “What I hear most, from utilities in particular, is that having a federal guideline to carbon emissions is a good thing, but they want to decide how to limit their carbon emissions on their own.”

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