In Search of Energy

I didn’t ask for this chance.

When I returned from two months in Germany after a still-productive stint as a Burns Fellow, I planned to continue life in the states, maybe apply for a few transatlantic awards, maybe try to sell a few of my European stories to the networks here, maybe drink a smoothie or two.

But then something happened.  Networking happened.

The local honorary German consul had helped me story storm before heading abroad, and I’ve worked with him on a few feature stories in the past.  The German Embassy in Washington was looking for a handful of nominations from consular offices, of journalists with an interest in Germany and renewable energy.

And with my journalistic dossier continuing to fill with internationally-focused radio stories, my name happened to make it into the mix…

It’s an almost unbelievable situation: a journalist with a Journalism degree from the University of Idaho, with no previous or formal education in German, has created a “European beat” in the arid and unforgiving Southwest United States.

Beats are often limited to education, city government, or cops and courts for example, but I’ve tried to discover in my city what Poynter calls “purple people.”

No, I’m not looking for Grimace, Ronald McDonald’s loveable-and-always-creepy sidekick.  “Purple People” are members of a community underserved or neglected by most news organizations.

One example of a “purple” person could be a man experiencing homelessness.  A journalist can talk about homelessness by interviewing politicians or non-profits, but until the concerns and realities of the actual homeless community are addressed, the “purple” story has not been told.

For my purpose here, I call the international community in Phoenix “purple.”

Diversity in journalism and policy here often refers to the Latino population, as its number has grown tremendously over the years.  But Scottsdale-based Taser employs mostly imported Eastern Europeans, German speakers have a business network, etc, etc.

With this mindset, and a lengthening list of internationally-focused stories, the German Embassy invited me to tour the country’s renewable energy sites on the Northern German coast.

I’ll speak with politicians and private industry, I’ll tour a wind turbine factory, I’ll see solar and biogas sites, all in an effort to understand why Germans think and do as they do.

An all expenses paid trip to Deutschland is hard to pass up–so I didn’t.  This opportunity fit nicely into a plan I had been trying to execute with a colleague for a while: Answer simply–why is Arizona so far behind in the renewable energy game?


Back to Berlin

I’ve talked to the utilities in the state, an energy conscious regulator, and private industry, in an attempt to understand what the heck Arizona’s energy plan is, and why it is the way it is.


So far, the short answer:  because electricity and gas are so cheap, there’s no reason to invest in solar.

And the lack of necessity is why Arizona–the surface of the sun–hasn’t become a leader in renewable technology.

So in December I’ll visit again Berlin, and Hamburg, for a week of fun-filled, exhaustive energy policy and practice.  When I return, I’m planning a 7-part series to air locally, along with a talk show.

If any of my stuff is good, I might pass it to public radio’s business powerhouse Marketplace.

We’ll see what happens with this, and who I’ll meet, the stories I’ll tell, the friends I’ll visit.  I’ll have a chance to practice my German, which is quickly diminishing.  (Though I’m almost done with Charlie und die Schokoladenfabrik.)

And I’ll have another opportunity to broaden my knowledge with a global spin, and perhaps tell stories that can impact the world.

“In the present circumstances, no one can afford to assume that someone else will solve their problems. Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged.”  -Dalai Lama

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