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Biden climate advisor McCarthy to launch May 4-5 event

by Allen Best

Big Pivots

After a covid-induced hiccup in 2020, the 21st Century Energy Transition Symposium will return to something resembling its original format on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 4-5, but this time exclusively virtual.

Gina McCarthy

Dozens of speakers will make appearances. I’m looking forward to hearing what Dan Sperling, the founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis, will have to say. I have interviewed him several times in the last 10 to 15 years, and he has a sober view of how fast this shift in transportation is likely to occur.

Another session with directors of the energy offices in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Nevada may answer my question: How exceptional is Colorado in its energy transition activities, if at all?

And then are sessions on envisioning the building of the future, plus one about carbon sequestration.

A shorter session of technical rapid-fire presentations will also be held on May 14.

You can examine the agenda for yourself and also register (free) at the conference website.

Big Pivots asked Maury Dobbie, executive director of the Colorado Energy Research Collaboratory, a few questions:

Has the focus of the conference shifted in, say, the last 5 years, and if so, how? 

The first 5 years the annual symposium was called “The Natural Gas Symposium” because there was a lack of focus and events then on that topic.

Colorado State University hosted the event until the steering committee made up of people from different backgrounds decided we should broaden the 2016 event in more energy-related topics and call it the “21st Century Energy Transition Symposium.”

In 2019 we chose to include the three other Collaboratory entities and the symposium was co-hosted by Colorado State University, University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado School of Mines, and National Renewable Energy Lab.

What session do you have this year that you wouldn’t have conceived of having 5 years ago?

I remember talking with our steering committee about the session topics for the 2017 symposia. We collectively decided we should stay away from the word “climate” because it was controversial and we felt it would detract from our event. We used other words like decarbonization and talked about the grand challenges facing our country. Since 2011, we’ve always strived to drive our discussions towards solutions and collaboration.  We’ve built a reputation for hosting a non-partisan, balanced discussions on different sides of the issues, timely, and educational symposia.

What caused the break-through on climate—and when was it?

We included discussions around stated climate goals in the 2019 symposium and further expanded how we were hoping to get there in the 2020 symposium that had to be rescheduled due to the pandemic.  In our 2021 symposium we are very focused on climate and decarbonization solutions.

You have a little bit for a lot of people in this agenda. What do you have that is unlikely to be found at another energy conference agenda?

In 2016’s symposium we pioneered the discussion around women in energy by hosting a lunch that we initially thought we’d only have 40 people attend.  To our delight, it ended up being attended by over 300 and it has been one of the audience favorite sessions since.

In 2021 we are purposefully expanding our discussions by including an “Environmental and Energy Justice” session with the goal of increasing the future energy workforce with underrepresented groups and women.

Do you think Bill Ritter has any questions in mind that will make my newshound nose want to hear what Gina McCarthy has to say?


This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal covering the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. To get copies, sign up at

Allen Best
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