COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado --- Reporting from the Global New Energy Summit.

Outside of the Silicon Valley echo chamber, politicians and industrialists are not talking about fuel cells or solar power. They're talking about natural gas, smart grid, energy efficiency and policy. At an influential event in Colorado today, the conversation is about the natural gas revolution, the coming era of American fossil fuel self-reliance, and, surprisingly -- the smart grid.

Outside of the Washington, D.C. snake pit, politicians, at least these men, seem to display a heartening degree of energy awareness and reasonableness.

We heard from three U.S. senators: sitting senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, and two ex-senators -- Bob Bennett, former Utah senator, and Tom Daschle, former South Dakota senator. The trio discussed a wide range of energy topics from a senatorial standpoint. We also heard from John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado.

Here are some of their observations:

Bob Bennett, former Senator, Utah
  • Although Bennett believes in most cases that the market should decide appropriate technology paths, he makes an exception in the case of the national electric grid. Likening the electrical grid to the interstate highway system, Bennett suggested that the grid needs federal intervention. He cited President Eisenhower changing the face of the U.S. landscape by tying the nation together with highways, and analogized this to the need for the nation to be tied together with a smart electrical grid. He suggested that tying the nation together with the transportation of energy should not be a particularly ideological undertaking.
  • Bennett cited the permitting barriers that the federal government places in oil and gas exploration on federal lands (60 percent of land in Utah is owned by the Feds). Oil and gas exploration companies, faced with the prospect of a six-year wait, fled to states with six-month permitting delays.
  • On global warming, Bennett questioned some of the science, but said, "We should be doing what makes sense anyway" -- whether that means making more efficiency cars or power plants.
  • Nuclear power will continue to provide 20 percent of our energy -- but it can't compete with natural gas.
  • "The U.S. could be energy-independent with the combination of the Bakken formation, shale gas and offshore oil."

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado  
Michael Bennet

noted, "We are horribly screwed up in Washington, as you may have seen." He doesn't see a comprehensive energy bill being passed in the short term and cited a recent natural gas fleet incentive that came up 7 or 8 votes short. He was also acutely aware of the expiry of the wind production tax credit and the lack of predictability in energy policy resulting in layoffs in his home state.

Bennet said that in dealing with greenhouse gasses, the single best thing we can do is conserve energy. He also cited the job growth potential stemming from PACE-like efficiency measures in home and building energy conservation. 

In addition, Bennet said he envisions a smart grid policy and a national energy policy that generate middle-class jobs and raise middle-class wages.   

John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado

The governor spoke of once-unimaginable amounts of natural gas now available through horizontal drilling and fracking, acknowledging that it doesn't eliminate the issues of hydrocarbons. He emphasized that we must look at the potential impacts of global warming and agreed with President Obama's "all of the above" energy policy. Hickenlooper didn't rule out coal if there are CO2 sequestration technologies accompanying it. He added compressed natural gas as a candidate to the transportation fuels mix and any other technology "as long as we are data-based and competition-driven." He didn't forget about solar and wind especially considering Colorado's vast wind resources and GE's telluride thin-film PV factory being developed in Aurora, Colorado.