As we begin a new calendar year, I find it worthwhile to look back at the previous. For CSU Extension, 2016 involved a number of different projects: Solar and Wind Assessments for Pivots, community energy assessments, a new website and “brand”, home and farm energy workshops, Xcel Partners-in-Energy plan facilitation, 4-H energy programming, and more. It sounds like a lot, but I can’t help but wonder if we’re truly making an impact.
Our goal with CSU Extension energy programming is to “facilitate sustainable energy decisions” in Colorado. Pretty classic mission statement, right? In reality, this means that we provide consumers with the financial information they need when considering clean energy options. We also encourage adoption of clean energy when we know a given application (i.e. LED bulbs in homes) makes financial sense. Although this isn’t very sexy and doesn’t often make headlines, I think it is necessary.
We are living at a time in which human-made contributions to global climate change threaten our security as well as natural ecosystems and their inhabitants. We are also diminishing stocks of non-renewable fossil fuels, which over the long-term will lead to significant energy price increases. At the same time, clean energy options are so varied and nuanced that it can be difficult to navigate what (if anything) is right for you. As proven with Solyndra, the negative repercussions of risky or ill-informed clean energy decisions can resonate deeply. So although there are good reasons to go green, it can be hard to know how to do it and relative inertia can result. This is where our trusted information and facilitation comes in, especially in underserved areas.
I often think of Extension as that voice in your head that says “maybe that’s not such a good idea”. Occasionally, we get to be the voice that says “actually, I think this could work”, and, admittedly, this is a lot more fun. We can shout the research-based merits of financially sound clean energy investments from the highest rooftops! And in both cases we are succeeding in achieving our largely unsung mission. As the sign hanging over Albert Einstein’s office door at Princeton read: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”.