By: Kevin O’Rourke
December 2, 2020
Doug Fredrickson is the former Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Blattner Energy and Ed Zaelke is a Partner and the Head of Energy Project Finance at McDermott Will & Emery. Both Doug and Ed served as board members of the Wind Energy Foundation (WEF), which became the Wind Solar Alliance (WSA) in 2018, before merging into ACORE earlier this year. Doug previously served as the WEF/WSA board chair, and Ed served on the board since WEF/WSA’s public debut in 2011. The following is an interview with Kevin O’Rourke, ACORE’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Public Affairs, and former WSA Interim Executive Director. The Q&A has been lightly edited and compressed for clarity.
QUESTION #1: Much has changed in the U.S. wind and solar energy industries since WSA was founded as WEF in 2010. You both were integral contributors to the WEF/WSA board during an era of tremendous growth. Over the course of the last decade, total installed wind energy capacity grew more than 150 percent, from 40 gigawatts (GW) to over 107 GW in 2020, while total solar installation grew from less than 1 GW of cumulative utility-scale installations in 2010 to over 60 GW by the end of last year. Tell us a bit about what that growth has meant to your respective companies/firms?
DOUG: By 2010, Blattner had already been building wind projects for over 12 years. That vantage point provided us a crystalizing picture of the potential positives a more robust renewable energy market could provide to the world, this country and our employees, if it existed. Our early experiences really opened our eyes to the wide range of essential stakeholders required to get a single project online. We learned we would have to join with others to create and disseminate educational elements to policymakers, utility owners, ratepayers and various environmental stakeholders. We believe working with the industry instead of for the industry was one of the aspects that contributed to Blattner becoming the leader of renewable energy project development in North America.
ED: While our practice has grown significantly with the growth of the industry, equally as important is that the maturation of the industry has allowed us to offer a stable opportunity to young lawyers who want to be involved in a growing industry that has enormous environmental and social benefits. This has allowed us to bring a number of very talented lawyers into the business who might, in a prior time, sought to pursue other legal areas.
QUESTION #2: Also during your tenure on the WSA/WEF board, philanthropic support for accelerating the deployment of renewable technologies increased. WSA/WEF was fortunate to receive some of that support – in part due to your guidance, input and oversight – spurring successful education and advocacy campaigns that complemented the work of the wind and solar trade associations. With the merger into ACORE, several of WSA’s programs, as well as those relationships with philanthropy, will continue. What are your hopes for ACORE’s role in today’s evolving national education and advocacy landscape? And what advice, if any, would you like to offer to the philanthropic community about the need for future support?
DOUG: Without question, national education and advocacy are essential. If you will allow me the following – “if more people knew what more people know” – the path to agreeing to achieve a cleaner, lower cost energy world would be much shorter. With the recent consolidation, it is my hope that ACORE will be able to strengthen their leveraging capabilities of vital information by sharing more strategically. Thus, the potential to bring the largest dissenting voices to see shared rewards.
Nearly all voices in the clean energy space bring forward a visualization of a better world for many. But simply visualizing falls short of the progress that can and must be made today. What is needed, and should be expected, is much greater – which is made clear, in part, by the increasing expectations of the philanthropic community. My advice to foundations: do not let up on raising your expectation for ACORE and the other industry supported advocates. The WSA and ACORE merger is an important first step towards increasing the effectiveness of renewable energy educational efforts and I know ACORE plans to grow and enhance its work in the years ahead. But even with this merger, ACORE’s continued partnership with the philanthropic community will be critical.
ED: I have been involved as a lawyer in the renewable energy industry for over 30 years. Despite the incredible environmental benefits, energy security, jobs, cost effectiveness, and benefits to farmers, ranchers and rural communities, we have always struggled to get our message out to state energy regulators and the public in general. That has recently started to change, but we have a long way to go to educate the public. We believe very strongly that educating the public and decision makers will create even greater support for renewables. One of the key goals of WEF and WSA was to work with philanthropic organizations to help get the message out, and I expect that this effort will continue at ACORE on an even grander scale.
QUESTION #3: While there are many opportunities and challenges on the path to accelerating the deployment of renewable technologies, what are two areas of work that you see as needing greater attention in the years ahead?
DOUG: The basic physics of electricity, emphasized by the regionality of renewables, demands that electrical power be consumed, stored or transferred. Market rules can be updated and improved to speed the advancement and deployment of the latter two. The market forces will take it from there.
ED: The first area has to be greater public acceptance. This means acceptance of expanded transmission and large-scale wind, solar and battery projects with the understanding the benefits they create for the planet outweigh any local “NIMBY” issues. Public and government support in that effort will continue to be important.
A second important area will be to create opportunities for women and people of color within the industry. Like many industries, we have not done as much as we can as an industry about being inclusive. This must become a priority going forward.
QUESTION #4: Lastly, any parting thoughts for how ACORE can best continue and improve upon WSA/WEF’s work in the years ahead? Are there particular programmatic areas or events that you’d like to see more or less of?
DOUG: The Cavallo Point event which was put on every year by WSA provided the industry and philanthropic leaders valuable, candid feedback on how our advocacy efforts could be improved in the future. I always thought it helped connect similarly minded organizations to maybe share efforts and resources toward common goals.
ED: ACORE, together with the philanthropic organizations which have worked with WSA, have a magnificent opportunity to build upon the work of the industry over the past 35 years and the goals of the new administration for a carbon-free electrical grid by 2035. They should continue their work of education of people both inside and outside the industry, expand programs, and partner with government to continue to expand the industry. As stated above, this expansion needs to be inclusive of all corners of America and create opportunities across the spectrum of people and communities.