Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Eric Drummond: Thoughts on the Fellows Institute

Eric Drummond was the 2012 Clean Energy Generation Department Head for the Fellows Institute. We asked Eric to share his thoughts about the program.

You have an incredibly varied background in the law, politics and energy. How do you tie these areas of expertise together to help support and grow Colorado’s expanding cleantech and renewable energy industries?

I’m very big on collaboration and getting the best people around the table to devise and execute on projects. This collaborative model was something I was exposed to very early in my career when several of us assisted with the formation of one of the largest electric utility holding companies in the U.S. This effort lasted around three years, involved four states plus the nation’s capitol and required our group being directly involved with a number of state and federal agencies, and state federal legislatures. I relied on these types of experiences when I was Chairman of the Economic Development Commission and, ultimately, Mayor of my city. Collaborative and creative processes led to a record amount of private investment in our city and allowed us to regain control of our economic future.

I am enjoying supporting our Colorado-based cleantech businesses and assisting with attracting capital and other like-minded businesses to our state. In addition, I believe that it is both rational and lucrative to assist Colorado businesses in developing work in foreign markets where U.S. expertise is in the global forefront of providing energy in energy intensive and emerging economies, while doing so without adding to, or possibly decreasing carbon load in these markets. I generally believe that in the most robust markets in the world there is conscious participation at the highest levels between law, politics and business and I hope to continue to facilitate those kinds of interactions to benefit our nation’s economy and our global climate.

When you signed on as the Cleantech Fellows Institute’s Department Head for Energy Generation, you took on a huge task in a wildly varied sector of the energy industry. Given the sometimes challenging fits and starts in the area of clean energy generation, how did you develop the curriculum?

In terms of developing the Clean Energy Generation curriculum, I gave a great deal of thought to two things: 1) after over 20 years of practicing in energy and telecom and working on large, often cutting-edge deals, what would I most want the Fellows to know and, 2) would it be useful to employ the kinds of approaches that I use in representing my clients with the Fellows; that is, would it be effective to approach the development of the Clean Energy Generation curriculum as if the Fellows were my clients and with the view that I would want the Fellows to understand how to best take advantage of the business opportunities that often occur at the intersection of law, policy and business. Over the years my law practice has developed such that I spend most of my time advising C-suite level clients here and abroad on strategy, global markets and how best to interface with large utilities and possible strategics and, with that in mind, I set about developing curriculum hopefully to elucidate what is developing in solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, etc. In addition, while it did not always work, I was not reticent about seeking speakers for the program no matter where they worked or officed in the country.

Have you seen anything during the Cleantech Fellows Institute that really caused you to have an “ah-ha” moment?

I suspect I had two “ah-ha” moments. The first was in the weekly grind of calling and emailing prospective faculty and refining the curriculum when I thought, “this CFI initiative looks very much like a business start-up and I would go into business with my fellow CFI compatriots.” For over a decade, I had my own boutique energy and telecom firm – we were rated as being in the Top 15% of all U.S. law firms in our practice areas – and working with my other CFI founding colleagues very much brought back the experience of setting up and ultimately creating a thriving and competitive law firm in two cutting edge aspects of law and policy.

The second “moment” was more of a confirmation of something I’ve shared with my clients and colleagues: it makes no difference how much talent, how much money or whether one has the best idea, if you cannot execute on the plan. Execution, and an ability to pivot, are essential to start-up endeavors and a skill that is often lacking with people attempting to start new businesses and other initiatives. All of the CFI staff executed the plan, both seamlessly and thoughtfully and, I believe, those actions led to a successful and enjoyable 17-week program.

Now that we are finally out of the election cycle, much will be at stake for the renewable energy and cleantech markets in 2013. What do you see as pivotal opportunities and challenges coming our way next year?

We will have a robust debate, both publicly and privately, with Congress and stakeholders, regarding the level and duration of current cleantech subsidies. In addition, I expect we will see novel means to finance cleantech projects that will be based on REITs, or financial products based on securitizing renewable energy assets, to develop additional pools of funding for cleantech project finance.
I suspect that FERC Order 755 will continue to drive the advancement of energy grid energy storage and frequency regulation in open markets. In addition, there will be substantial demand for renewable energy and cleantech services and products internationally especially in China, India, the EU and the Middle East.

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