“Did I mention that he put all his chips on the table to get Elon Musk’s battery R&D and commercialization operations in Texas? Where are you going to store all the wind energy before it gets into the grid?”
by, Richard Seline | Executive Director & Senior Advisor at AccelerateH2O
While I have not agreed on every topic, stance, nor policy of Rick Perry as Governor, I can simply describe his selection as the next Secretary of Energy to be “brilliant”. Really. And there are those that will respond to this article with their perspectives and concerns – more likely in anticipation of comments indicating he will “destroy energy and turn America into a vast environmental waste-land”. That is your opinion as this is mine.
However let me explain why this is “brilliant” for the Nation:
- Small Rural Town, Ranching, Agriculture: Rick grew up on a ranch, maintains his ranch roots, and understands the importance of rural America. One of the pillars in the ranch “family” – be a stewards of your land so that your kin and next generation can carry on the traditions and honor their legacy. And he recognizes that ranchers and farmers are “innovators not by choice but by necessity” – you cannot survive without water, need seeds and animals that adapt, and otherwise have to live on a shoe-string to make a living on limited resources.
- Technology, Research, Commercialization: A number of us worked with Rick when he became Texas Agriculture Commissioner and he decided that the agency needed to leap into the 21st century rather than assume agriculture would be in the future what it was for his father and grandfather in the past. So he took off to Israel to learn about alternative irrigation methods, desalination, and other technology solutions coming out of their academic research campuses, laboratories, incubators, and venture funding. He was the co-host of the first-ever statewide technology summit with the late Dr. George Kozmetsky – founder of Teledyne, Dean of the University of Texas at Austin Business School, and future advisor to Michael Dell. It was Rick Perry that proposed we needed a 21st Century Product Development Fund, that we needed to make sure other agencies and campuses in the State did not raid MD Anderson Cancer Center of funding in the dead of night and therefore reduce cancer research and patient care, that in the absence of early stage venture dollars and no clear road map for Texas’ technology future formed several programs and initiatives around commercialization, academic collaboration, and advanced industry clusters. That Rick Perry did. And he continued to do more – ask Rick Perry about matching federal dollars to win a competition for the future of drones and unmanned vehicles which support data, remote sensing and analysis of fields, water use, crops and agriculture basins with advanced capabilities and thus save farmers and ranchers from over-fertilizing and over-irrigating?
- Economic Development, Jobs, and the Results: I have worked with over 30 governors across the US, several ministers in other countries, and 1000s of local and regional officials. I have never seen a Rick Perry anywhere else – a person willing to work the phones, fly anywhere, and engage anyone to create jobs, new factories and facilities, and otherwise generate opportunities in both urban and rural communities. There was no CEO, no consultant, no program director with whom Rick Perry wouldn’t call – himself, not an aide – or find a side bar conversation to talk about their needs, their competitive challenges, their long-term business and technology goals. Do not stand between Rick Perry and an opportunity to create new technology-based economic development. If you think of a process where typically a governor or elected official waits until all the work has been done and then shows up for the ribbon-cutting and photo. That ain’t Rick Perry.
- DOE Mission, Goals, and Challenges: During my consulting days, I had the honor of working with four of the DOE laboratories and their private sector operational management companies such as Lockheed Martin. What I learned – from Oak Ridge to Los Alamos – two of the most critical laboratories in the US and frankly on a global scale – was what Rick Perry will learn, support and expand upon: applied technology from the laboratory to the market can be done in the public sector if the mission and outcome are market oriented, beneficial to society and civic life, and responsive to real-world needs. Federal laboratories have become bloated and underwhelming given the significant increases in private sector R&D, funding of new products and solutions, and consistently investing in the Next New Thing. Right? Wrong. DOE laboratories when given a clear mission and specific task have out-delivered the work of private sector investment – and often during times when private sector R&D dollars are reduced to a small percentage of shareholder value and operational budgets. What Rick Perry will do with the DOE Labs? Drive their value propositions up, reduce their overheads, and most likely find ways to overcome the bloated slowness and often arrogant perspective of those DOE labs that are pastures for former DOE employees and distraught university professors or researchers that have lost their traditional funding for good reason. So the challenge for Rick Perry: finally leverage the best of the federal labs by no longer accepting “…this has always been the way we do things and if you mess with us it will negatively impact national security, homeland security, etc.” Go for it Rick Perry – create laboratories of 21st Century Innovation and not maintain 20th Century Museums. He doesn’t care about the politics of the past and that allows him to make some hard choices.
- Wind, More Wind, and Alternative Energy: Yes you non-Texans will say that us Texans are a bunch of windbags. Got the joke. But in reality, Texas has THE largest deployment of wind energy in one of the largest unique electricity grids in the world, among some of the most beautiful landscape in America. Every major technology company and vendor-supplier is in West Texas, on state lands, and operating on a value proposition that did not take huge amount of government incentives. Thank Rick Perry for letting the world’s best technologies, capital, and project teams do what they knew to drive costs and value for energy supplies and sustainable development. Or what we call “resilience.” So if you think Rick Perry is only about carbon – you are wrong. And he will continue to promote alternative energy sources as long as the boondoggles are not part of the equation. Did I mention that he put all his chips on the table to get Elon Musk’s battery R&D and commercialization operations in Texas? Where are you going to store all the wind energy before it gets into the grid?
- Water, Drought, Aquifers, and the Energy Nexus: Texas goes into its worst drought of record in 2010/2011, the hardest hit areas of the State are west of I-35 – which means West Texas. Look at the rainfall maps during those years and we looked as bad as California has the past few years. Instead of praying for rain or blaming someone else – or even trying to get into the climate debate – Rick Perry along with the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives put an emergency action into motion: call for emergency water management across all sectors of the economy, pull $2 billion from our reserves into a new infrastructure program, engage with the largest industries to assure them of supply, and encourage more innovation and technology towards solving our greatest challenges (i.e. our organization “AccelerateH2O” www.AccelerateH2O.org) along with any and all means of unleashing our regulatory, rule-making, and oversight agencies to expedite technical and engineered solutions such as direct potable reuse, grey water reuse, aquifer storage and recharge, desalination. From the gulf coast petrochemical, plastics and other refiners such as Dow, Shell, Valero – to inland food and beverage manufacturers such as Campbell Soups, Frito Lay, Texas Instruments, Kimberly-Clarke – Rick Perry recognized that water stability and sustainability – or again resilience and survivability – are critical to industry AND communities alike. How about Alcoa building out one of the largest high-tech constructed wetlands on their facility in Wichita Falls as an answer to the City’s running out of water at the worse of the drought? Water and Energy – its where DOE aligns to the immediate challenges of places like Flint or even Corpus Christi, and why EPA cannot be the only entity overseeing our immediate water challenges in America.
- Industry, Business, and the Future of Competitiveness: DOE has been a palace of scientists and researchers, allowed to dabble in some insignificant blue-sky explorations and often unfettered program management of less that marketable products or outcomes. Yes, of course DOE funded the Internet, the Human Genome Project, and other powerful and ambitious projects in the past. That was in the past. What is the future of industry and business competitiveness, and where can DOE’s greatest assets, capabilities, competencies, and shared know-how support our economic growth? But more importantly, where can DOE pursue greater alliance with emerging industries, entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors that are often not in major corporations or institutions? Or even better, what is DOE’s role with regional economic and technology competitiveness, with regional energy-water-food interests, with the future of our Nation’s infrastructure? Yes, of course DOE has been working on these and other examples. But now is the time to focus, focus, focus on the 3-5 most critical challenges our nation faces and unleash the best of DOE and Industry. Rick Perry understands that focusing on a specific goal will accelerate the results. I have watched him ask the simple question: when? When will what you are proposing see the market and impact us now – not in ten, twenty or thirty years – but now.
- For the Love of Entrepreneurs, Youth and Students: Rick Perry loves to be around entrepreneurs, youth and student innovators and inventors. He might not understand every strand of DNA or a quantum theory – but he loves to see what others can do with the science to create the coolest of tools for solving big problems. He loves fast and quick solutions into the marketplace – and therefore I think Rick Perry will be the innovative disrupting champion that DOE needs right now – as well as all of the scientific and technical agencies across Washington DC. Combine the best of SXSW with the best of Formula One – both Austin assets that have global reach – and think Rick Perry. We need to unleash the best of disruptive, open innovation from entrepreneurs, youth and students. Something that has been underway for the past 8 years and prior administrations. So do not expect that Rick Perry is somehow going to shut it all down. He will pick the victories based on performance and impact.
- Time for Someone Other Than A PhD to Run US Technology Programs: I know it is heresy to not have a fellow scientist or PhD to run the peer review process nor is it comfortable to have a politician at the helm of a highly technical organization. Guess what? So what. It is time to have the above No. 3 and No. 6 items become priorities, and to have someone without a bent on that traditional perspective of who gets to run what offices in Washington because that is the way its done. I kind of like that a Texan – even an Aggie (Texas A&M alumnus versus UT Longhorn!) – is going to oversee energy activities in America. The world has been coming to Texans for over fifty years to learn, partner, invest, and resolve global energy issues. Ever hear of the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston? Speaking of Houstonians, former DOE Deputy Secretary Bill White was not a scientist and he sure did some great things for the Clinton Administration in sharpening the DOE mission and focus. I am sure that Rick will find the best talent to fill deputies, assistants and other secretarial appointed positions to manage the day to day operations and set the course of his vision for the new Administration.
- One more thing: Nothing last forever and its worth trying a new approach to shake things up a bit. I lived in Washington DC for 25 years and saw the best and worst of all ends of the political spectrum, from both parties and from every extreme of promises to self-promotion. From this vantage point of being away from Washington, I say unleash the disruptors, the innovators, the inventors. We need some good shaking out of the rugs, the blinds need to be washed, and the walls need a new coat of paint.
Welcome Rick Perry by giving him some time to settle in and then in a year or two, if I was wrong, the drinks are on me. But if I am correct, welcome to a 21st Century DOE – and a brand new energy scenario and economic competitiveness for America.
Richard Seline is the Executive Director & Senior Advisor at AccelerateH2O, an organization aimed at promoting water-related innovation technology development. The organization has a partnership with the Texas Desalination Association to launch the Texas Water Innovation Clearinghouse, an online platform that serves as a way for researchers, entrepreneurs and industries to connect and collaborate.
Seline’s his career has taken him from the U.S. Dept. of Labor to the Whitehouse, Public Private Partnerships, and has been a founder and creator in different organizations in his own right.
You can contact Richard Seline on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/richardseline.