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Member Spotlight: ClearPath

Medium Sunday, November 14th 2021

Rich Powell, Executive Director at ClearPath

Dynamo Energy Hub is proud to present a membership spotlight interview with Rich Powell, Executive Director at ClearPath. Rich and his powerhouse team at ClearPath work to advance conservative, market-based policies that support innovation in clean energy technology. Rich sat down with Jessica Krejcie, Chief Operating Officer at Dynamo Energy Hub, to discuss ClearPath’s mission and how they are effectively advancing their agenda in Washington.

Jessica: Hi Rich, thanks for speaking with me today. Can you explain how you got involved in the energy sector and how your work helped shape ClearPath’s mission?

Rich: Thanks for having me. I’ve spent my entire career in the energy sector. Most recently, I was in management consulting at McKinsey & Company where I supported clients in the energy and sustainability space — both on the energy consumption and production side. But then one day I got a call from Jay Faison, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, who wanted to spend one hundred percent of his time finding climate change solutions. He was interested in finding ways to develop a conservative approach in the energy and climate space and I was immediately drawn to helping make that idea a reality.

Jay Faison and I built ClearPath together over the past couple of years. Our mission is to advance policies that accelerate clean energy innovation in the power and industrial sectors. Basically, what that means is we are trying to more effectively utilize the entire innovation apparatus of the U.S. Federal Government to scale the next generation of decarbonization technologies in the power sector — both in the United States and around the world.

We’re inspired by U.S. Government initiatives such as the shale gas revolution as well as the work to rapidly decrease the price of solar. We believe that same approach can be replicated for the next generation of advanced energy technologies, such as carbon capture for fossil fuels, long-duration energy storage, advanced nuclear energy, and advanced renewables like geothermal and hydro-power.

Jessica: What is ClearPath’s strategy around growing the economy while simultaneously making it stronger and how that will impact the energy transition?

The U.S. and global clean energy transition will not happen unless it’s good for the economy. Often people talk about the energy transition as a set of trade-offs between the environment versus the economy, but there doesn’t have to be a trade-off.

But accelerating clean energy can’t only be good for the US economy, it also has to be good for competitiveness. If our innovations are not competitive, then we’re at risk of leakage. Leakage is when polluters move their operations out of countries with emissions laws and into countries with lower emissions standards, which ultimately ends up doing more harm than good both domestically and abroad.

Being competitive means focusing on cost and reliability. The shale gas revolution is a prime example. When we started utilizing shale natural gas, we suddenly had this commodity that was cheaper and cleaner than coal-fired electricity. The transition to natural gas from coal brought down emissions by 30%. That’s faster than the Clean Power Plan or the Waxman Markey bill would have reduced emissions. In the end, it was technology and innovation that delivered a better solution than legislation.

Jessica: ClearPath’s pillars are focused on specific areas of innovation — including natural gas, energy storage, carbon capture, hydroelectric power, geothermal and nuclear power. How did ClearPath decide on these areas? Do you think they’ll shift over time?

Rich: When we first came to D.C. we noticed a lot of advocacy, enthusiasm, and support around energy efficiency and intermittent renewables, such as wind and solar. But if you look at any analysis of the future of power grids, it’s clear that wind and solar efficiency only take us so far. In some instances they might be 80% of the solution, while in others they might only be 40% of the solution.

While it was clear we needed other innovative technologies, those other technologies were often lacking external advocacy compared to the intermittent ones.

ClearPath decided to set up an advocacy platform around flexible non-intermittent renewable energy technologies, which are all further behind on development, deployment, and demonstration than wind and solar. There’s a need for people to be focused on these technologies from a policy perspective today.

Looking forward, there are a few ways we’ve started to shift our focus for energy innovation. Recently we’ve added fusion power onto the agenda. People joke that fusion is still 10 years away, but it appears things might be different this decade, so we’re hopeful about fusion.

We have also started to diversify into other sectors. In particular, we added industrial emissions and industrial clean energy technology as a new set of pillars. In the near term, we’re prioritizing clean steel, concrete, and cement technologies, as well as clean hydrogen as a cross-cutting technology for those sectors. We’ve also included carbon dioxide removal technologies as part of our carbon capture work. There are a number of growing technologies that can capture CO2 directly out of the air. While they are expensive today, hopefully in the future they’ll be more affordable.

Jessica: What is ClearPath’s role in passing energy-related legislation? What strategies do you use to advocate for this work, specifically on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act?

Rich: ClearPath is a full toolkit advocacy organization. We’ve got a terrific policy shop here in D.C. with a bunch of policy dynamos that only think about topics like nuclear energy or geothermal policy. We have fantastic communicators who help tell the story of those technologies and the policies required to scale them up. We also have a terrific team of government affairs folks with 80 years of experience on Capitol Hill who have a deep understanding of how the system works and the legislative mechanics.

We’ve achieved some very significant accomplishments through the work of these expert teams. Last year, we worked on different pieces of legislation that all came together in the Energy Act of 2020. The Act demonstrates a whole suite of advanced energy technologies — from advanced nuclear to natural gas to carbon capture and grid-scale storage. It’s an extremely comprehensive program, and we were thrilled to see many of the programs authorized by the Energy Act of 2020 make their way into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package this year for funding.

We’re now thinking ahead to the next generation of policy by trying to secure incentives for demonstrations of these technologies. Currently, we’re advancing the bipartisan and bicameral Energy Sector Innovation Credit, which would set up a permanent structure for advanced clean energy technologies.

Jessica: Can you explain how ClearPath has utilized its strong communication tactics to further public education and knowledge about these technologies?

Rich: Whether it’s to the public or to a policymaker, it’s essential to find a straightforward, clear way to communicate these innovative technologies given their complexity and often require a lot of context. Capitol Hill staffers have to sift through an enormous amount of information before making any recommendations to their representative. Our job is to help fill that gap by cutting through the complexities and getting to the core information on the issues which we do in a number of ways: we have an educational series on our website called Tech 101, we hold a Clean Energy Innovation Academy for Capital staff, and we bring staff on delegation trips to see clean energy infrastructure. All of these methods provide vital context to better understanding the importance of green energy.

Jessica: 2021 has been such a momentous year for climate action. How has the current political climate influenced your work this year?

Rich: Despite currently being in a period of unified Democratic control, moments of unified control rarely last very long.

Climate policy has to be bipartisan, otherwise it won’t be politically sustainable. ClearPath collaborates closely with policymakers, to advance innovative, non-intermittent clean energy technologies and ensure their viability and longevity.

We’re also tremendously excited about the huge climate progress amongst conservative policymakers over the last couple of years. For example, House Minority Leader McCarthy rolled out an Energy, Environment, and Climate Package as well as established a task force under Ranking Member Graves on the Climate Select Committee. Congressman John Curtis from Utah has established a Conservative Climate Caucus which has more than 70 members. Because the party is reengaging on this issue, there is a lot of opportunity in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to get a lot accomplished.

Jessica: Why did ClearPath decide to join Dynamo Energy Hub?

ClearPath is a huge fan of everything Dynamo is accomplishing to lead the clean energy transition space. In particular, we’re most excited about Dynamo’s vast network as it provides us with easier access to the finance community.

While it’s great gigantic investment banks are financing deals for solar farms and offshore wind, there’s still a need for investment in these nascent technologies. The opportunity to work with and educate the finance community about how promising these technologies are and how they will be crucial in the clean energy transition is an unparalleled opportunity for us.

Jessica: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Rich. Dynamo is delighted to have ClearPath as such a dedicated Dynamo Energy Hub member and we are excited to continue spreading awareness of all amazing work ClearPath is doing in the energy sector.


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