Kyle McGuiness 1/15/14
On Friday, January 10th, the American Council On Renewable Energy announced that it had chosen a familiar face as its permanent President and CEO: Michael Brower. Michael had spent several months beforehand as ACORE’s Interim President and CEO. At the beginning of his tenure, he sat down with me to answer a few questions. Enjoy!
Kyle: “What first sparked your interest in renewable energy?”
Michael: “I started my legislative affairs career as the Special Assistant for Air Warfare to the Secretary of the Navy, and within naval aviation, that includes air-capable ships. So I had some responsibility for authorizations and appropriations for aircraft carriers, and the aircraft carriers that the Navy was building then were nuclear-powered. This led to me spending some time at the Department of Energy, and it was there that I got to meet some of the people who were working on renewable energy in those days.
I was very interested in the strategic effect of nuclear energy; that it was homegrown, a domestic source of energy. You have to remember that back then, we had the Arab oil embargo, and for the first time, we felt strategically vulnerable about our energy supply. Given the importance of supply lines to our military, I started to really think about what an energy-secure future would look like.
I’m not critical of nuclear energy--it’s CO2 neutral and I think that’s important. But I was even more attracted by the strategic and economic promise of renewables. We had proof that coal was causing sickness, causing disease, and renewable energy looked like a solution. And I am a solutionist.”
Kyle: “How did you get involved in ACORE?”
Michael: “Through my involvement in the biomass space, I met a guy named Bill Holmberg, who was the Chairman of the Biomass Coordinating Council. Around 2001, Bill told me, ‘Hey listen, we’re gonna move the Biomass Coordinating Council into this new stand-up group, ACORE.’
And I said, ‘Geeze Bill, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.’ (Laughs)
Of course, it was a brilliant idea, because ACORE had the vision of renewables as an industry before they were an industry. But at the time, I wasn’t sure. Bill kept pulling my arm, trying to get me to join. Six months after the organization was founded, I started my first membership in ACORE.”
Kyle: “What makes you qualified to lead ACORE?”
Michael: “Well, I’m qualified to lead ACORE because the Board of Directors decided I was qualified. And they did a detailed, national search. They evaluated everybody, a lot of great candidates, and I went through the entire process that the search committee devised.
As far as my experience, through the years, my client base became more and more focused on renewables. I’ve had solar clients, I’ve had wind clients, huge geothermal clients, biomass generation plants, and energy efficiency clients. I have had direct project experience with every kind of technology in this space. Given the diverse array of our membership, that’s important. Given the need to understand the whole industry, as opposed to a few sectors of the industry, that’s important.”
Kyle: “In your opinion, what is the most pressing issue facing the renewable energy industry right now?”
Michael: “If there were only one, life would be easy.
Right now, we’re presently commenting on the RVOs (Renewable Volume Obligations) of the renewable fuel standard for liquid transportation fuels. Quite frankly, the Administration and USEPA have thrown economic development in the renewable liquid transportation fuels industry a spitball. They’ve selectively decided what they are going to enforce in the law, as opposed to enforcing all of the law. They talk about a blend wall, which is an artificial construction. And that artificial construction was enabled because they did not do the things that the law demanded, like make flex-fuel vehicles and make pumps available.
Now, NASCAR has driven nearly 6 million miles on E-15 ethanol fuels. Obviously, the “NASCAR Nation” knows a thing or two about engine technology. If NASCAR can do it… without problems, why are we limited to some artificial blend wall? It’s because the USEPA didn’t do what they were supposed to do back then.
The matter speaks directly to the policy uncertainty that renewables face, whether it’s the USEPA arbitrarily choosing what parts of a law to enforce or the cyclical expiration and renewal of tax incentives. Renewables have managed to succeed in spite of this policy uncertainty, but it puts them at a disadvantage, and it threatens the economic vitality of major portions of this country.”
Kyle: “You’ve talked about a ‘New ACORE.’ What does that entail?”
Michael: “Let me give you an example. On Sunday, the 5th of January, CBS News’ ‘60 Minutes’ issued a very critical 13-minute piece that essentially painted the clean tech industry as a failure. Well, our communications staff here at ACORE got wind of this. With my concurrence and involvement, we responded nationally point-by- point to their argument before it even aired. ACORE’s efforts were noted, cited or praised by a wide variety of national media outlets, including Politico, CleanTechnica, and the Washington Examiner. On Twitter, our responses were retweeted 125 times, which fostered, furthered, and influenced the national conversation on the legitimacy of the 60 Minutes report.
That is the New ACORE. It is the capability to reach out across national media and new media alike, to expand our brand and educate both policymakers and the public. Our robust communications program and EnergyFactCheck are part of the New ACORE. How we are expanding our Initiatives and International Programs are part of the New ACORE.
The New ACORE is doing things the way the future demands.”
Kyle: “Do you have a favorite book?”
Michael: “My favorite book, right now at least, is Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner. Cadillac Desert is the story of water in the western United States. I’ve come back around to it as I’ve become more concerned about the water-energy nexus. Water is a diminishing resource, and energy is a huge consumer of water. More than half of this country fits the classification of semi-arid and desert. It is a spectacular story, a very important story, and we need to start thinking about how to preserve and protect one of our most important energy-production-essential resources.”
Kyle: “Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today, Michael. Congratulations.”
Michael: “Thank you.”