Not only is there strength in numbers but there also is power. The latter is especially true when it comes the Arizona Energy Consortium (AEC). Established in 2011 as a committee of the Arizona Technology Council, the AEC became a standalone nonprofit in 2015 that has grown to a membership base of individuals and organizations totaling more than 500. With Michelle De Blasi of Fennemore Craig and Christopher Davey of EnviroMission serving as co-executive directors, the organization counts among its successes the Arizona Energy Roadmap released in 2013 and the inaugural Southwest Energy Conference held in September. TechConnect asked De Blasi and Davey to discuss AEC’s journey, the group’s impact and what’s in it for them.
As President of EnviroMission, Christopher Davey’s involvement has been vital to the development of the first U.S. solar tower project, which is located in Arizona.
For those unfamiliar with the consortium, how is its impact greater than what the individual members can do on their own?
Davey: What we’ve been successful in doing over the last 5 to 7 years is just bringing together or creating a forum where people can come together and exchange ideas, exchange business opportunities, lessons learned, as well as pitfalls that are out there and identify some of those so we can educate the relevant folks to make it easier to do business. I think that’s further reinforced by the diversity we now have in the membership base.
Is the consortium just for members within Arizona or is it also open to people outside Arizona?
De Blasi: It’s definitely open to people outside of Arizona. From the conference last fall and the recognition that both we and the state were exposed to, we’ve gotten a lot more interest from out of state. We’ve had some folks from mostly the regional states but even those from back wast join us.
Davey: I think the conference had people from about 30 different states that were represented. We’re definitely receiving a broader attention.
What was the significance to both the consortium and the state by hosting the conference here?
Michelle De Blasi of Fennemore Craig focuses her practice on environmental law, with an emphasis on natural resources matters. She advises clients on energy and environmental matters, including traditional and renewable energy project development, environmental permitting and compliance, and greenhouse gas emissions.
De Blasi: I think it makes Arizona important as a place where a lot of businesses have wanted to locate. But we can’t do that without talking to our neighbors and coordinating with them. So, I think for the Energy Consortium itself it was really important in spreading the word about what we’ve been doing all this time. There really isn’t an organization out there that’s able to do what we’ve been doing. And I think for the state, obviously it was important enough to get the governor’s attention. We had the governor (Doug Ducey) as our keynote, we had regulators from out of state, as well as utilities in-state and out-of-state, developers, lawyers from all over the country, and other affected stakeholders. We had the (exeutive director) of the Western Governors Association (James Ogsbury) from Denver come. So, I think it really helped put the state in the middle of that conversation.
Davey: Having it be put on by an industry group that again isn’t just a solar advocacy group or really just a branch of the utilities (was important). It’s truly a business consortium that is all forms of energy, not just one particular. We’re being seen in a regional cooperative since we first issued the the roadmap. We were a mutual player to provide a forum for all stakeholders to come together and have their thoughts be considered.
Do you think that reponse really emphasizes we’ve now reached the point in time where it’s not just about the utilities? Does a conference like that emphasize that?
De Blasi: Absolutely it does. We had a very broad array of different types of stakeholders: everyone from developers to utilities to independent power producers to regulators. We had some community organizations there. All sides of the industry were covered there and I think it made for a really meaningful conversation. And that’s folks on all sides of the power industry as well — renewable and traditional and that sort of thing.
How does the momentum of the conference continue? Is there a plan for another one?
De Blasi: We have gotten feedback from folks who have started discussions from the conference that are continuing. And so that’s great to hear as well. I don’t know if they’ll particularly get projects out of it but they’re definitely moving forward in that coordination. The details will be coming (about a second conference). It’ll be about same September/October timeframe.
Davey: We’ll have information on the website in midyear.
Besides the conference, what do you count among the successes over the past few years for the consortium?
De Blasi: I think having started with the Tech Council — which was a great opportunity to have that starting point as we worked with (President and CEO) Steve (Zysltra) to start it — we always knew that we would ultimately become our own nonprofit but I think we’ve been able to grow up as an organization. There was so much interest at the beginning that we were trying to just figure out how we could be the most helpful. We were pulled in a lot of directions I think at the beginning. Now we’ve really come to realize after speaking to many of our members that our greatest asset is the fact that as we are a business consortium and that our ultimate goal in everything we do is bringing people together to do more business together.
Davey: As Michelle said earlier, it’s now not all about utilities. That’s an accurate statement. However, they are an integral part of the market and the market doesn’t exist in a secure, reliable, cost-effective manner without them. So, they continue to need to be part of the conversation. At the end of the day, we’re all here to ensure we can turn the lights on in a cost-effective manner but we’re also all here to do business. So how can the region as a whole do business in the most effective manner? That’s not by putting up boundaries between the various states. Our groups are connected into Mexico, our groups are connected across other nations, our groups are connected to our east and to our west and to our north as well. So, you can’t ignore that. And there are impacts both positive and negative if you don’t have the conversations immediately or the onset. You risk having unintended consequences.
Are there any other upcoming projects?
De Blasi: As Chris mentioned, the roadmap came out in 2012. I can’t believe it’s been that long! But we’ve been working over the last 6 to 8 months to update it and getting folks’ input. Hopefully, this quarter we’ll be issuing an updated version.
Why are you both involved in the consortium?
De Blasi: When we started it, it really was because there wasn’t anything like it. And even times when I thought we might pass it off — and I don’t mean that in a negative way — to another organization to take this over and grow it or what have you. I’m not sure that’s possible because you really have to be fully entrenched in the industry as Chris and I both are in our day jobs, and understand the direction of where the conversation needs to go.
Davey: It really has been a standalone organization that we got involved with for the betterment of the industry. And it probably was an altruistic goal at the beginning and that was sufficient to keep us motivated but then as you see us evolve as an organization, see the membership change and evolve, see the demands and interests of members change and come in line almost with what we were saying six or seven years ago. It reinforces why we’re still here. We are providing a service. From that perspective, it is rewarding. It’s rewarding to see people cut deals and hear about it or read about it, and I know how that happened or I know where they met.