Students tackle energy questions at Keystone Center

Kathryn Turner
Summit Daily News
Special to the Daily

As a high school student, Albert Chan dreamt of being a mad scientist and developing “cool technology” as an adult. But during college, he realized that, instead of inventing, “there were a lot of problems in the world that could be solved with persistence.”

That’s why Chan now works for the Rocky Mountain Institute, he told a crowd of 39 high school students at The Keystone Center Tuesday. At the institute – a nonprofit that focuses on driving a business-led transition from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables by 2050 – Chan is a consultant, specializing in solar energy and industrial efficiency and manufacturing, and he said he feels like he’s able to make a difference.

Chan was one on a panel of 10 experts assembled Tuesday for the students attending the Keystone Center’s Youth Policy Summit, an annual, week-long program where teens get the chance to study and address a real-life, science-intensive energy, environment or health policy issue. This year’s summit includes students from all over the United States and focuses on energy infrastructure.

Throughout the program, which began this past Saturday, the students partake in research, team-building games, mediation training and problem solving surrounding different energy sources, and they look at what’s required to sustainably grow and update the energy infrastructure in the United States. On Friday, they are scheduled to make a public presentation with possible solutions for the future.

Really, the week is a chance for the teens to study, and help prepare them to make lasting changes in the future, said summit program manager Elizabeth Roush.

“A lot of (the panel experts) say it really gives them a sense of hope,” Roush said.

Tuesday’s panel was one of the week’s highlights. Students prepared questions the night before for the group of experts, which also included individuals involved in the coal, gas exploration and wind technology industries, environmental organization The Sierra Club, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and State Rep. Millie Hamner.

One student asked to hear the experts’ opinions on nuclear energy, which drew a mixture of answers from the panel. Alan Higgins, vice president of special projects for Anadarko Energy Services Company – an oil and natural gas exploration and production company – called it one of the most underutilized energy sources available, although it can’t be repurposed due to security threats.

“We think nuclear is possible, but renewables could fill part of that demand,” Chan said.

Sierra Club representative Bryce Carter said the waste from the energy source would remain for longer than humanity has been around, while Lee Boughey of Tri-State Generation and Transmission – a nonprofit wholesale power supplier – believes it can’t be written off, and that the world will see “nuclear power come through.”

A question surrounding job relocation if renewable energies become more prominent led to a little debate over whether coal will keep a spot in the limelight.

“I would say that coal’s not going away,” Boughey said.

(See related story on coal on Page 20.)

Carter, who works for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the country needs to look at the big picture of where it’s going.

“What we see in the fossil fuel economy is one thing: Everyone’s willing to pay more for it than America is,” he said. “We’re exporting our resource, which means our gas and electricity prices will increase.”

Youth Policy Summit attendee Sebastian Munoz, a 17-year-old from Texas, signed up for the program because of an interest in energy, energy policy and environmental issues. He wanted to “test the waters” and see if it’s something he’ll want to pursue later on. Munoz feels like the summit is giving him a better perspective, especially after listening to the experts.

“I’m learning a lot,” he said.

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