What happened when the Commerce Secretary came to Denver

A lively discussion ensued

In December, 195 nations convened in Paris to develop actionable global policies to combat climate change. In the aftermath of the talks, U.S.  Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker traveled to Denver as a part of the “State of the Union: Cabinet in your Community” national road tour for a live discussion at The Commons on Champa. The conversation highlighted hopeful opportunities, challenges and calls-to-action for American businesses as a direct result of the new climate policies.

“Climate change is real,” said Erik Mitisek, CEO of the Colorado Technology Association to kick off the dialogue on Friday.

Pritzker noted that many private sector organizations, from American Express to Coca-Cola to Disney, have voluntarily committed to reduce carbon emissions, contribute zero waste, modify supply chain management and other sustainable practices. She noted that corporate America’s willingness to adopt the Chief Sustainability Officer title in many of its C-suites indicates an awareness and value shift in business.

"We need the regulatory, technology and policy pieces to all be working together," Pritzker said.

Mitisek and Pritzker were joined onstage by Edward Fenster, chairman of Sunrun Inc., the largest dedicated residential solar company in the U.S., which announced its plan to open a corporate office in downtown Denver last month with the goal to hire 800 people in Colorado in the next few years. Fenster mentioned his California-based company’s interest in building a sizeable work force in Colorado came as a result of the high-quality work force, exciting place to live and Gov. John HIckenlooper’s supportive solar policies.

“There’s a huge tech opportunity for clean exports – solar and wind – where we can sub labor costs for fuel costs. So there’s a massive domestic opportunity,” Fenster said. He added that with oil and natural gas prices declining, renewables have managed to remain at competitive prices, noting the sustainable market opportunity.

The Paris conference and resulting international agreement are aimed at fast-tracking the world’s transition to a clean energy future, encouraging the development and deployment of new technologies.  It establishes a robust long-term framework for 19 countries to reduce carbon pollution and maintain global temperatures below a dangerous level.

In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, expectations were further defined to mitigate and prepare for climate change. The Obama Administration announced its Climate Action Plan in 2013.

Friday’s follow-up conversation highlighted Denver-area clean energy companies and how they can compete globally. The event was hosted by CTA, Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, the State of Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and the Downtown Denver Partnership.

“I see potential for entrepreneurial collaboration nationally and for Colorado to have a position on that stage to impact the world,” Mitisek said.

Read more about the Commerce Department and climate change.

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