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12 Steps to Making Pittsburgh a National Energy Leader

In case you haven’t heard, we are at a time of converging national crises. All the crises threaten our comfort, if not security, and all hang on one question: what is our energy future?

It’s a question that’s been difficult to avoid as of late. We wake up every morning to talk radio broadcasts reciting the latest predictions for unavoidable climate catastrophes.  On the car ride home we hear of the latest struggles over foreign oil—blood spilled in Saudi Arabia, uprisings in Nigeria, reserves unknown.  Yet we go home where we sit down to comfortable meals in comfortable rooms, complete with microwaves, dishwashers, fridges, florescent lighting, and those IPhones, all humming along to the tune of growing consumer demand.

And we wonder, later at night, restless under the covers, how to make sense of any of it. Can growing demand and climate change possibly be reconcilable?  What about growing demand and breaking away from foreign oil? And what does unlocking our dependency on foreign oil mean for our dependency on coal, a resource that’s burning is inarguably linked to climate change?

Setting Priorities
Some recent work from Three Rivers Clean Energy might allow you to sleep more easily. The workforce development firm suggests that by making energy efficiency and conservation a priority, investing in the manufacturing and generation of alternative energy, and deploying technologies to offset and eventually move us beyond fossil fuel extraction and use we can, here in this region, make progress on each of these issues.

But, the firm suggests, while our region is home to an abundance of natural, educational, and industrial resources, we must do some preliminary development to take on these larger crises. Their suggestions are outlined below.

The 12 Steps to Establishing the Region as a National Energy Leader:

1.    Build worker pipelines for the energy industry.
2.    Drive reform in education and training.
3.    Facilitate access to federal research dollars for local corporations and universities.
4.    Build corporate development and commercialization partnerships with the universities and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
5.    Brand and market the region as a leader in energy technology development.
6.    Enable startups with investment and technological assistance.
7.    Promote energy efficiency and conservation and deployment of renewable energy generation.
8.    Prepare the state for a carbon constrained economy.
9.    Bring full weight of state and local governments to bear in support of the industry.
10.    Provide credit and capital.
11.    Generate a sustainable marketplace for energy investments through education.
12.    Provide mechanisms to encourage conversation and interaction.

At first the list might seem a little daunting—and it is. It’s no easy task changing the way we relate to energy.

But consider this: The region is home to a host of energy companies – wind, mining, solar, nuclear, power generation – and a rich supply chain of goods and services that make them successful.  The companies all have different needs, but one need they have in common is workforce.  We need to fill that worker pipeline for the businesses and for the good of the workers  to provide them with largely recession-proof careers that pay well. 

But we also need to repair the cracks in the pipeline – like making sure the career and technical centers have the resources they need to train future workers.  Keeping the innovation pipeline filled is just as important, as it represents the next generation of employers.  We need to nurture those companies as they grow, and then allow them to operate in a favorable business climate.  And we need an engaged community.  Us.  Ready to do more than a little tossing and turning at night, a region that could lead the energy future of the nation.

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Kate Lauer graduated in May from Hiram college with a degree in Ethics in Environmental Policy. This article was based on a recent presentation by her mother, Jan Lauer, at a Sustainable Pittsburgh conference.

Captions: Pittsburgh Technology Center; gas station; Carnegie Mellon Univeristy campus

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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