By Kayla Zacharias
Suzanne Tegen is an advocate for an equitable transition from coal power in rural America, Assistant Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, and a CO LSEN advisory group member.
Suzanne Tegen’s career has been almost entirely focused on the environment, economics and energy policy. She was one of the first graduate students in environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she also earned a doctorate in energy policy. After several years at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), where she studied the economic impacts of renewable energy, she made her way to the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.
Tegen has been a highly involved advisory group member as of late, facilitating the Colorado-focused portion of our Feb. 19 event on the future of hydraulic fracturing. When she isn’t helping us put on events at CO LSEN, she spends a lot of her time – you guessed it – supporting the transition to a new energy economy.
As part of her work for the Center for the New Energy Economy, Tegen worked with a production company to create a series of micro-documentaries about energy communities in transition. The videos are impressive, eye-opening and heartfelt. All four videos are set in Craig, Colorado, and told from the perspective of various community members, including business owners, engineers, teachers and a county commissioner.
“The real motivation for this project was making sure coal community voices are heard and respected instead of someone from an urban academic background suggesting what’s best for a rural town. I really wanted to let the voices in the coal communities speak for themselves, rather than me saying, ‘This is what they think in Craig,” Tegen said.
Tegen’s work not only allows coal communities to speak for themselves, but helps their voices be heard by legislators who make decisions that impact their communities. Between November and December 2020, the Center for the New Energy Economy hosted an Energy Transition Academy: an eight-webinar series that served as an opportunity for stakeholders to both learn about and discuss the energy transition in six western states.
Participants included tribal leaders, county commissioners, state legislators, public utilities officials, and state energy office officials. Speakers were workers from coal plants and mines, as well as experts on economic and cultural transitions.
“My feeling was that legislators are signing bills that are really going to impact a lot of people’s lives, but they rarely get the opportunity to talk with those people. They don’t work together closely, so bringing them together was one purpose of the event,” said Tegen.
Tegen provides a unique perspective on the energy transition, thanks to her experience researching the technical side of things at NREL, and now her work on the human and economic aspects at the Center for the New Energy Economy.
When asked about the most significant challenges we face in transitioning to a clean energy economy, Tegen said she sees distinct challenges in the short and the long term.
“In the short term, the human part of this is the hardest. We need to transition equitably so we’re not leaving workers behind, and we need to increase the level of understanding about the energy transition. People often see this as a political shift, and it’s not – it’s an economic shift. There is policy involved, but because coal is becoming uneconomical, people are shifting away from it. Increasing awareness and understanding about that is difficult,” she said. “In the long term, we really need to figure out how to get beyond 80% renewable energy. Because right now we can get to 70 or 80%, and our utilities know how to do that. But beyond that, we aren’t sure. We need federal investment and investment from business in clean energy technology and storage to figure this out.”
Thank you, to Tegen, for all the work she’s done for CO LSEN and beyond. We look forward to continuing our efforts supporting policy makers, researchers and community members in the transition to a clean energy economy.