Hold On To Your Hats, There’s A New (& Old) US Department Of Energy In Town

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It’s not often that the Intertubes light up when some random federal agency fills some obscure director position or other, but that’s what happened yesterday when the newly minted Biden Administration announced a slew of new appointments for the US Department of Energy. You could practically hear the climate action advocates turning cartwheels down the street (well, some of them), so let’s take a look and see why everyone is so excited.

renewable energy Joe Biden
The US Department of Energy gets new leadership after holding the clean tech R&D fort for four years (photo via US DOE).

The US Department Of Energy Holds The Fort

Before we get to those new hires, let’s note for the record that the old DOE kept its cleantech R&D programs humming along over the past four years, despite White House policy that purported to favor coal jobs above all else, so props for all that. That set the table for the Biden administration to hit the ground running.

Last year alone DOE introduced an important new initiative for energy storage, poured millions into green hydrogen R&D, and doubled down on an Obama-era program aimed at making affordable solar power available to every household by 2025.

DOE kept on churning out the hits even while the 2020 General Election cycle heated up to a boil last fall. With a focus on global decarbonization, DOE entered the US into an offshore wind collaboration with The Netherlands, and word dropped that it is participating in the renewables-friendly Global Power System Transformation consortium.

To ice the global green cake, on November 3 — that’s right, smack dab in the middle of Election Day — DOE chaired the kickoff meeting of the International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower, which is a project of the International Hydropower Association. That’s significant because pumped hydro still accounts for more than 90% of bulk storage in the US, and there could be lots more on the way.

Meet The New US Department of Energy

Where were we? Oh right, the Human Services office over at DEO. Career DOE staffer and nuclear security expert David G. Huizenga was tapped to serve as Acting head of the agency, which signals that the agency’s national defense mission is alive and kicking (hint: The Manhattan Project).

That defense angle is a key connection for accelerating climate action because the Department of Defense is well aware of climate risks. DoD been instrumental in pushing the clean tech envelope, just one recent example being a new carbon-negative challenge launched by the Air Force in the runup to Election Day 2020.

Here’s an alphabetical rundown of other new hires from the agency’s press office (its words in italics, condensed for a quick read):

Tarak Shah, Chief of Staff —  first person of color, first Indian-American, and first openly LGBTQ person to serve in that position at DOE [he previously held the Chief of Staff role for the agency’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy and has a background with the US Department of Defense. There they go again with that national defense thing!].

Shalanda H. Baker, Deputy Director for Energy Justice — was co-founder and co-director of the Initiative for Energy Justice [there’s a national defense angle here, too, but who’s counting].

Vanessa Z. Chan, Director, Office of Technology Transitions — she was the Brassington Professor of Practice and the Undergraduate Chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania [her academic resume supports social impact engineering, btw].

Robert Cowin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Engagement — was most recently director of government affairs for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists [what more can we possibly add?].

Tanya Das, Chief of Staff, Office of Science — was most recently a Professional Staff Member on the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where she worked on legislation on a range of issues in clean energy and manufacturing policy [again, nothing to add except maybe solar beams from outer space].

Christopher Davis, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy — [he served various roles in the White House and Energy Department all throughout the Obama administration, then moved to Co-Equal, a non-profit dedicated to reversing years of budget cuts restoring expert policy staff to Congressional offices].

But Wait, There’s More

DOE has called itself “one of the most interesting and diverse agencies in the Federal government” ever since it took its present form in 1977, and the other new appointments will cement that reputation:

Ali Douraghy, Chief of Staff, Office of the Under Secretary for Science & Energy — He led the New Voices program at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Caroline Grey, White House Liaison — she started her career as an organizer for then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and…co-founded Civics Analytics, a data science firm.

Todd Kim, Deputy General Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement — was the first Solicitor General for the District of Columbia, serving in that capacity more than 11 years.

Jennifer Jean Kropke, Director of Energy Jobs — served as the first Director of Workforce and Environmental Engagement for IBEW Local Union 11 and the National Electrical Contractors’ Association-Los Angeles’ Labor Management Cooperation Committee.

Andrew Light, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs — has worked on international climate and energy policy in and outside of government for the last 15 years…and was one of the chief architects of Governor Jay Inslee’s plan for global climate mobilization.

David A. Mayorga, Director of Public Affairs — was Senior Spokesperson for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and led communications for DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Shara Mohtadi, Chief of Staff, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy — most recently led the America’s Pledge initiative and managed grants focused on the coal to clean energy transition in Asia and Australia at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Ali Nouri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs — is a molecular biologist and most recently was the President of the Federation of American Scientists, which addresses global health and security risks.

Kelly Speakes-Backman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy — in 2019, she was honored by The Cleanie Awards as Woman of the Year.

Narayan Subramanian, Legal Advisor, Office of General Counsel — Narayan Subramanian was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Law, Energy, & the Environment at Berkeley Law leading a project tracking regulatory rollbacks (and much more!).

Avi Zevin, Deputy General Counsel for Energy Policy — an attorney with experience advancing policies that enable the provision of carbon-free, reliable, and cost-effective electricity.

Wait, What About The Fossil Fuels?

Yes, what about them? The Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy focuses, well, on fossil fuels, which have begun to drift out of the US power generation landscape. Nevertheless, OFE is loaded with technology experts whose skills and experience can apply to clean power. For a hint in that direction, take a look at how the offshore oil and gas supply chain is pivoting into offshore wind.

The Department of Energy has already been hooking OFE up with other offices to collaborate on new clean tech, and that’s where things get even more interesting. Here are the two new hires for OFE:

Shuchi Talati, Chief of Staff — was most recently a Senior Policy Advisor at Carbon180 where she focused on policies to build sustainable and equitable technological carbon removal at scale [Carbon180 advocates for a full slate of carbon removal projects and one of them involves soil health, which dovetails perfectly with the exploding and intertwining trends of regenerative agriculture and agrivoltaics].

Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy — was most recently the Presidential Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute.

Wait, did they say World Resources Institute? That would be these people (breaks added for readability):

“WRI is a global research organization that spans more than 60 countries, with offices in the United States, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and more.

Our more than 1,000 experts and staff work closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action to sustain our natural resources—the foundation of economic opportunity and human well-being.

Our work focuses on seven critical issues at the intersection of environment and development: climate, energy, food, forests, water, cities and the ocean.”

It sure looks like OFE is set to expand and accelerate its collaborative efforts with other Energy Department offices.

Meanwhile, the person nomintated to head up the whole shebang as Secretary is former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Like CleanTechnica, Granholm is a huge fan of the electric bus company Proterra, as revealed in her recently released public financial statement. That could spark some interesting questions at her confirmation so hold on to your hats!

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Photo: US Department of Energy, “What Solar Can Do For You.”

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3327 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey