Introduction to Joe Sullivan
Joe Sullivan recently joined CEE’s policy team as the Manager of Strategic Relations. Joe will be working with policy makers, regulators, utilities, energy advocates and other key stakeholders to develop new energy policy opportunities for Minnesota. Prior to coming to CEE Joe worked at Wind on the Wires, as an attorney at Flaherty & Hood P.A. in St. Paul, at the U.S. House Committee on Science, and at the Internal Revenue Service. See below for Joe’s interview with i.e.’s Helen Booth Tobin.
Helen: How did you become focused on energy in your career?
It’s really a combination of things. Starting when I was little, I have always loved politics and following politics. Specifically for the outcome it can bring. I have also always been concerned about climate change and the environment. I remember in 5th grade, in 1985, my teacher talked to us about climate change and the greenhouse effect and being concerned about what we are doing to the planet. I also love machines and the way things are engineered – I could stare at a power plant for days. For me, energy is the nexus of these three things coming together. Professionally, this all came together when I went to work at a law firm in 2006. They represented a utility and I just gravitated towards that work. I worked there for six years and then when I got the chance to work for Wind on the Wires (WOW) I jumped at it.
Helen: You have a wide range of experience in your past jobs, with nonprofits, law firms and government agencies. How will these past experiences impact the work you will do at CEE?
All of my past experiences have really grounded me in what is possible. I do have a very strong optimistic streak, but at the end of the day I come back to what is possible. Working for a utility when I was with the law firm gave me a good understanding of how they operate – what resources they have and why they might oppose or support what we want to do. I have a good understanding of the many different perspectives around energy issues. Developers, manufacturers and utilities all come at the issues from different points of view and then from WOW, a nonprofit and NGO, I have an understanding of the environmental voice as well.
Helen: How do you see the relationship between renewables and energy efficiency?
Renewables and energy efficiency are both resources for the system. In the future, new generation needs are going to be met with either efficiency or renewables. Most of the time efficiency is going to be the preference just because it’s a lot less expensive. But there will always be times when we need renewables – they shouldn’t be viewed in opposition to each other.
Helen: What do you see as being the top energy-related policy issues in the near future?
The big issue right now is how Minnesota implements the federal Clean Power Plan – how we as a state develop a plan to reduce our state emissions by somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent. Will we continue to create preferences for renewables and efficiency, letting the utilities implement in the least cost way? This is my preference—since we don’t know how the system is going to look in 2025, we don’t want to lock in individual choices based on how the system is today. Instead we need to create a general guide for how we can lower emissions and get to a zero carbon Minnesota.
Helen: What are you excited to be working on as CEE’s Manager of Strategic Relations?
Big picture - I am really excited to learn about everything that CEE does that I don’t know about, like the Lending Center, and the Innovation Exchange, and all of the seasoned staff’s thoughts on the future of energy efficiency. I really feel that CEE is the center of the action and I am really excited to be involved.
More specifically, I am excited to be working on an energy bill next year. If we do things right, it could be something big, something that I will be proud to tell my daughters about. I think it could be meaningful both locally here in Minnesota, and nationally as well. And I think that if we stay focused on the real end goal we can build a strong constituency with a lot of different stakeholders, and I am excited about the possibility of bringing those different voices together to take Minnesota to the next level
Image credit of Matthew Paulson via Creative Commons