Beer is processed at the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colo. The brewery has embraced sustainability, making efforts to produce some of its own energy.
Beer is processed at the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colo. The brewery has embraced sustainability, making efforts to produce some of its own energy. Becky Lettenberger/NPR
The presidential debates are expected to cover a wide range of topics, from the economy to foreign policy to health care. Wednesday night's debate will focus on domestic policy — and one topic that's likely to come up is energy.
It's a subject that is certainly on the minds of voters in Larimer County, Colo. Last week, in a rural area outside Fort Collins, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan held a campaign event in a warehouse at Walker Mowers, a family-owned manufacturer of lawn mowers and tractors.
Enthusiastic supporters cheered as Ryan called for a wide-ranging energy policy.
"We have lots of energy in this country," he said. "Let's use that energy in this country and put people back to work! You've got it all right here — oil, gas, to coal to renewables. Colorado's got it all!"
He went on to say that President Obama is standing in the way of a more comprehensive energy policy, that there are too many federal regulations on drilling for domestic oil and gas. It's a sentiment that many at the rally seemed to share — people like Gary Albers, a strong supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Albers believes that those federal restrictions are keeping the U.S. overly reliant on foreign oil. Additionally, he says, gas is expensive, which is making a tough economic time even tougher. But Albers also agrees with Ryan about renewables.
Wade Troxell is an associate professor of engineering at Colorado State University and a City Council member in Fort Collins, Colo. He's passionate about the technology and the policy behind renewable energy.
Wade Troxell is an associate professor of engineering at Colorado State University and a City Council member in Fort Collins, Colo. He's passionate about the technology and the policy behind renewable energy. Becky Lettenberger/NPR
"I think we have to invest in our natural resources, as well as in natural energies such as wind and solar," he says.
Another Republican, Wade Troxell, also believes in those natural energies. Troxell is an elected member on the nonpartisan City Council of Fort Collins and an associate dean at the College of Engineering at Colorado State University. He is openly passionate about the technology and the policy behind renewable energy, specifically the smart grid.
Fort Collins, which is Larimer County's seat, has always been on the leading edge of energy innovation, even as far back as the 1970s. There's a solar village in Fort Collins, and the university's Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory is recognized internationally for a number of projects related to natural gas and smart-grid technologies.
Many businesses around Fort Collins have embraced renewable energy and sustainability, including one of the city's most well-known companies — the New Belgium Brewing Co.
Jenn Vervier, the brewery's director of sustainability, details some of the energy-saving efforts the company makes, like making ice at night, when it's cold. The brewery also produces some of its own electricity, using the methane gas created by treating processed wastewater.
Jenn Vervier, the New Belgium Brewing Co.'s director of sustainability, says the brewery's energy-saving efforts include making ice at night, when it's colder.
Jenn Vervier, the New Belgium Brewing Co.'s director of sustainability, says the brewery's energy-saving efforts include making ice at night, when it's colder. Becky Lettenberger/NPR
"We capture the methane in two large balloons on the property and pipe that methane back into the plant to use in two engines, which create electricity on-site," she explains. That system can provide up to 15 percent of New Belgium's electrical needs. The brewery also uses energy from solar panels — an investment it was able to make because of the federal stimulus, which offered grants for renewable energy projects.
Even through the worst of the downturn, the New Belgium Brewery was able to prosper, so much so that it recently bought land for another brewery in Asheville, N.C. Vervier knows that there's not likely to be any federal money this time around, even though she thinks government should help businesses move toward sustainability. Still, she plans to vote for Obama and the Democrats, citing their more pro-environmental record.
As for Troxell? He, too, is committed to renewable resources and sustainability, and while he has yet to make a final decision, he says he believes in a lot of things about the Romney campaign. He doesn't think much has been accomplished in the past four years but — like many of the people we met in Fort Collins — seems to take a balanced view of the current political scene.
"At the end of the day," he says, "who's elected tends to be moderated in one way or another and, I think in Colorado, reflective of the purple state, there tends to be a lot of broader perspectives."