028: Sandy Reisky, Conversation 1: Providing 10% of America’s New Wind Power, full transcript

February 22, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

Sandy Reisky

Do you think of acting on the environment as something that would distract you from success, that would distract you from your career? Sandy reveals, and he’s not the first guest on the podcast nor will he be the last to reveal that it’s a route to success. We live in a world craving leadership from those who act, not just people who look and don’t act. And he’s big he’s started several power companies in solar, in wind, in waves. One of these companies provides 10 percent of the U.S. wind energy. In this podcast he shares his story from no background in this technology or in this area at all, no advantages, no family connections, no history to being a major leader in what’s coming. He also shares what’s next. So listen carefully to hear if you want to lead beyond just your personal behavior. Listen to because he talks about what’s coming next. Also, watch the video that I linked to of Generation 180 of his nonprofits because I believe it is the future of leadership in the environment. So let’s listen to Sandy.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Josh, I’m here with Sandy Reisky. How are you doing?

Sandy: I’m doing great. I’m doing great, thanks. Thanks for having me.

Joshua: Glad to have you here. And I’ve actually alluded to you before. I met you ultimately through a previous guest Jim Harshaw whom you’ve met who put me in touch with [unintelligible] who works with you. And I met with you…And all right, now I want to introduce the listeners to some of the stuff. I’m looking at your bio and I see founder, chairman, CEO, owns and operates, utility scale facilities. And let’s see, you’ve done solar, you’ve done wind, you’ve done some tremendous big things on a scale that is huge but right now the way I met you is through a nonprofit and so I want to talk a bit about what you’ve done in the past and some of the things that drove you to be so successful at, I guess I would say like moving us over away from fossil fuels but maybe you could describe… Do you mind describing like how you got to do what you’re doing and some of the things you’ve done?

Sandy: Sure, sure. I’d be happy to. I’m a guy that you know grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. I went to the University of Virginia, it’s a commerce school undergrad. And for a number of years I worked in Europe with different companies. But what was a sort of changing point for me, sort of drove my perspective on what I want to do in life or at least gave me some ideas directionally was that I spent a couple of years in Czech Republic and Eastern Europe and the pollution there was just staggering. It was really unbelievable. And I sort of said to myself at the time, “If I can find a way to move my career into a place where I’m working on clean air, that’s something I’m going to try and do.” And then you know spool forward to 1999-2000 like a lot of people, it happens to all of us, I had sort of a life changing event, death in the family, and I stepped back from what I was doing at the time, I was CFO of a software company, small software company and just said, “You know, I’m going to think about what to do next.”

And my sister Didi gave me a book called Do What You Love, Love What You Do. And I read it and I found it to be really transformational in how I was thinking about career. And you know my takeaway from that book which is basically the title is that really applying yourself to something that you feel strongly about is one of the most rewarding things you can do. So I started looking into working for nonprofits in the clean energy sector and also you know what’s going on with solar and I came to understand that solar was still very expensive. But the wind energy had reached a point even back then in 2000 where it had really crossed the line. It was competitive, competitive with fossil fuels, you know a viable solution and it was an industry that was just getting started. And I thought to myself, “This is an area I can explore. This is an area… This is what I want to work on.” So I started going to wind energy conferences and people were very…

Joshua: So, no background, no history in this?

Sandy: Nothing.

Joshua: You did software before this and you just read a book Do What You Love, Love What You Do and you said, “This is what I love. This is what I love, so I’m going to start doing it.”

Sandy: Yeah.

Joshua: I’m sorry to interrupt but like I look at founder and all these… You founded multiple, multiple things and I’m looking at the dates, it’s all after 2000. So you really just came out of nowhere. And partly I’m saying this because everyone listening to this, you didn’t have any advantages over anyone else. Like you weren’t born into a family that had been in like a long history with this or something like that.

Sandy: No, and I had no money to speak of. I mean there were some savings but it wasn’t like I was born into a fortune of any type. I had you know basically what I had saved over that time. I didn’t have a background in the industry. I didn’t come with a lot of money to the table. I just was a guy who was determined to see if I could find a way into the industry. And the way I did it was I just went to wind energy conferences all around the country that the Department of Energy had these wind powering America conferences and they would get state legislators, governors if possible, you know landowners, entrepreneurs, wind energy companies, suppliers, all into you know have a little conference state by state. And I was like a groupie. And I’d go to each one and I got to know people and I asked everybody you know, “Is this a good time to get in the industry?”

And you know just sort of looking for a job and people were nice and everything but they were sort of like, “Look, if you don’t know something about the technology or whatever, it might be hard to get into the industry.” But there is an interesting thing about energy which is, and this goes all the way back to how they did it with coal and oil and gas, and that is there is a resource out here in our country, a very abundant resource and to get it to market, to commercial asset, you need to secure it first and that’s your asset, and then you need to raise capital, to spend, to invest in that asset, maybe one or two million dollars per se and you’re qualifying and be risking the asset. You’re saying, “Okay, this does have transmission line of capability, this does have the permits, it’s been permitted by the local community.” Community wants this wind farm, you’ve gone through all the traps and you found a power buyer, a utility that is ready to buy the power and you’ve measured the wind for years and done all your bird studies and this type of thing. So there’s a whole process in a relatively large spend to get one of these projects ready. And so, I decided that’s how I was going to get into the wind business. I was going to try and develop a project. And I could tell you the story of the first project but I want to be conscious of you know how far you want me to go into that aspect of getting started.

Joshua: Well, I’m kind of curious. I’m thinking from the listener’s perspective, I think a lot of people are going to be listening to this thinking, “What can I do?” And how much of what you… So I am curious how much of what you’re doing was to make money and how much of what you were doing was to make the world a better place and how much of it was… Like what was motivating you?

Joshua: You know maybe that was 100 percent because it’s what I wanted to do and believed in. And the motivation to make money was more like the requirement, 100 percent that has to be right. You know the business that you’re getting into has to be viable and you have to prove that. So you know that’s part of being able to do what you want to do is also doing something that works for society. At the time wind power was subsidized, it still is with the tax credit but that’s expiring. You know we’re the only industry, energy industry that has agreed with Congress that the tax credits are going to expire. They were 100 percent in 2016, they were 80 percent in 2017 and 60 percent this year of the value and next year’s 40 and after that it’s zero. So when people talk about you know subsidies for energy, wind and solar have a path to get off with those and it certainly would be good to see that for fossil fuels.

Joshua: I’m guessing that the fossil fuel industry is not going to start paying for the wars that we’ve paid to keep the oil pipelines going… That subsidies are not going to get paid for it, is it?

Sandy: Right. Right. But anyway to your point and just to you know continue the narrative I launched this company Greenlight Energy and six years later we had built 750 million dollars’ worth of wind facilities and had a large portfolio of assets, of resource assets that we had spent money on, that were ready to bring to market and BP Alternative Energy, the oil company bought Greenlight and another group that was similar to us and formed their own thing that they went to terrifically with, they built an awful lot of wind power a lot faster than we could because they had much more resources. But the point is that I had capital at that point. You know I was able at that point to really double down and go back into the industry and do a lot of things that have defined you know since 2006 through today.

Joshua: So the young hopeful guy who was the groupie in the back asking questions you’re now having acted on what you learned.,, You were probably speaking at these things.

Sandy: Yeah, yeah. And one other point or two points just for people who wonder how does it really come together with your first company when you don’t have that much money, the answer is it’s a team effort. You know the secret sauce is as soon as you can afford to bring professionals into your organization, do it. We had a great team at Greenlight. You know it was a combination of me and that team that was able to build these facilities and even the big numbers I was throwing around you know that wasn’t our money. All we did was show viable projects to the financial community that had power purchase agreements. And then you bring that financing together debt and equity. So we were selling projects that had that value. We didn’t have that type of money ourselves.

Joshua: This is fascinating because I mean this whole thing is about leadership and how to make things happen and you’ve made stuff happen. You started from very little… Thank you for coming on and sharing this. If I’d known, I would have done more to get you on earlier.

Sandy: Well, don’t make me blush. It’s been an amazing journey.

Joshua: Well I mean the big thing is I want people listening… One of the big things is I want people to hear examples of people who acted on their values, acted on what they cared about and we’re able to make it work. I’m sure that if I asked, I’m sure if I dug, I could find stories of like it was all going to fall apart or the team was at each other’s throats for a while. It’s not easy, it’s not like some Disney story here, right?

Sandy: No, and the hardships were mostly around raising capital. In the beginning I had a misplaced idea that people saw the world the way I did and we need to invest in this stuff and we’ll figure it out. It’s going to you know… And so, I was out raising capital and trying to tell the story you know, “Hey, we’ve got this asset and it’s the right thing to do.” And investors are like, “That’s great but show us the financials again.” You know they really want to see how the money is going to be spent and how it’s going to be turned into a successful project. And I get that. You know I was in business as well. But nevertheless, it takes both types of green. And then to raising capital, one piece of advice I’ve said to people is if you’re raising capital, if you ask for money, you’ll get advice. If you ask for advice, you might get money. So there’s a truism to that where you know… And we had a hard time raising money and it was lean, you know every single year we were running out of money and would have to add investors. But one way or another, it came together.

Joshua: All right. So in a future conversation we’ll go into more detail or if listeners contact me and say, “Get Sandy to say more about how we got that thing going”, we’ll follow up on that. So you grew and grew and you did waves, you did solar and was it all like organic growth? Was it easy to switch one to another?

Sandy: No. This is back to the team’s concept. When we sold Greenlight we had capital. And so we went… You know I was not allowed to work in the wind business again for a couple of years because of a noncompete. And I knew I wanted to put the capital into the renewable sector. And you know I could see that solar was getting traction nationally, just beginning to get traction as a utility scale solution. So I kind of understood utility scale energy or utility scale clean energy. I didn’t know how to spell solar.

So I started to go into some solar conferences and just meeting with folks, entrepreneurs and found a great team that was just launching their company, they were trying to do utility scale solar, they had a great background in solar, Tim Derrick and Kevin Chrystie formed Axio Power and they really led the effort. We acquired a couple of other companies that had small portfolios, not big numbers here. These were just groups of people working on stuff and we all got together and pooled those projects and then funded their development and we got a lot of contracts in Canada and one in Massachusetts, we got projects in Hawaii. And then it was acquired by SunEdison in 2011 which was the right thing to do. You may notice there’s a theme here which is you can do a lot as, I mean an awful lot, as an entrepreneur and the clean energy space aggregating resources but you get to a point where if you don’t find very big capital to advance your portfolio, it can be difficult to actually…I mean this is a capital-intensive business.

So SunEdison saw the value in what we were doing. It was another terrific exit for our investors. And so we launched Apex with that capital. We also, though in the meantime I’ll just mention because it’s really a fascinating story, this group Columbia Power Technologies is totally a different thing. It was totally out of my lane. It’s clean energy but it’s just you know a bunch of engineers working on a solution to develop a wave power device, device that can extract power from ocean waves. The device would be a couple of miles off the shore. You’d have a network of 100 of them just like a wind farm and they would have a trunk line comes and takes the power ashore and that company is doing great. You know we’re the leader globally in direct drive wave power devices. It’s not yet commercial so it’s a zero-billion-dollar industry but it has huge potential. And the important point here is I asked myself the question, “Sure I can do more solar and then eventually do more wind which I did with Apex, but what can I do that nobody else is doing because it’s so risky?

Joshua: So I don’t know but that sounds to me like a very… Now you’re very confident. You went from like an outsider to an insider. Now you are like I’ve got a strong platform. It’s time to go for the brass ring.” Something like that. Am I right?

Sandy: I think overconfidence has been one of my problems for years. It gets you in a lot of trouble but that’s how opportunity happens I suppose.

Joshua: So I’m reading confidence but it’s actually you’re creating an opportunity. You’re like OK, maybe as a businessman you’re thinking…

Sandy: No, no, it’s its impact. So you know when I got into the whole thing altogether it was like, ‘How can I move the needle? How can I change the world? What’s important in life? You know what do I want to try to do?” And once I had sort of gotten real traction with wind and solar I said, “How can I use another [unintelligible] of capital here to do something nobody else is doing that has the possibility to launch a whole new industry?” Not that we would launch it but we were going to get our technology right and if we were right, there’d be competitors and eventually… But there’ve there have been hundreds of attempts to create you know a wave powered device. None of them have gotten to commercial scale where they’re really in serial production and the wave farms are going up around the world, that’s just not happened yet.

And I was basically thinking if I could help that happen, that would be great. And it’s not like I am this really altruistic person. There is the business aspect of it as well which was you know I saw that at the University of Oregon had this, I read an article that they had this device they’re working on and together with some other folks we spoke with them and talked about, “How can we help you commercialize this?” We licensed the technology and we’ve been working with them ever since and it’s been about 10 years now. So it’s very exciting. The device, by the way, it’s about as big as… It’s about two stories tall. That’s just the generator part of it. So it’s like wind turbines you know you do it at scale so that the power you’re producing can really serve a big need.

Joshua: I have to say I’m really amazed and humbled at the success that you’ve had. And thanks for sharing it. And it also forces me to like… My game is to influence other people and you’ve been doing that. And I like also that you said that you began with your passion but then to lead others is working with their interests and put… You know you were talking about the investors, you have to understand what they want and you have to understand what they’re after and that’s how you influence people, not just… You can’t just…You come in with your passion but your passion isn’t their passion.

Sandy: Right. That’s right. You have to be able to connect all the dots and bring people along and essentially convince the team it’s going to work and we’re going to find the money and this is going to work. Let’s make it happen.

Joshua: I met you through Generation 180 which is a nonprofit which is… Now is that a new direction? What led you to do Generation 180? How is Generation 180 different?

Sandy: It’s a little bit similar to the wave power idea which is how can I really have an impact. Where are the big levers in society that decarbonize? What’s the biggest lever? And all my career it’s been on producing energy. Let’s get our energy production to be clean and sometime around 2012-2013 I started thinking to myself, “Wow, look at how we consume energy, how much opportunity there is to save energy by being more efficient but also look at these new products. Look at the solar panels are getting cheaper and cheaper for individuals. And you know, here come electric cars.” And so in 2012 I started thinking to myself and started doing some research into you know how big is the carbon footprint of a normal household, how much would that be reduced if you use totally what I call local energy. And it turns out the average household in the U.S. uses about 65 tons and direct energy which is what I was just talking about, so your heating and your power and your car, that’s about 22 tons of it.

So you know close to one third, two thirds, closer to third is you know those things and now we have these new products and really they’re just getting to market and they’re wildly popular. It was starting to happen and I could see it happening. And I thought you know this is a way, there’s a simple idea here which is now that it’s the time that we have the opportunity as consumers directly to buy better clean energy products, we should be doing that. It’s like an energy ethic that’s been enabled. We’ve been enabled… We have agency so the language has always been, “We must do this for the environment. We must change that. We should do this. We should…” And now it’s the language is you know, “I can, you know I will save money. We can shift to clean energy.” So the Generation 180 was really about calling that out and making it clear that…

Joshua: Calling out that we can change, we can reduce our consumption. It’s easier than ever. It’s enriching our lives to do so. Am I getting it right?

Sandy: Spot on. Yeah.

Joshua: Man, I got to get this out there that there’s two people I’ve met who I’ve heard expressing the notion that we can do this, we have to want to do it and it improves our lives and there’s every reason to do it. The whole rest of the world seems to view reducing consumption as deprivation and sacrifice and something that they’ll be grudgingly do or they want credit for doing when it’s not that way at all. It’s like something you get to do and after you do it, you wish you’d done it earlier.

Sandy: Yeah, that’s right.

Joshua: And I mean that’s a big, you know one of the big things I’m trying to do here is to change beliefs from “This is deprivation and sacrifice” to “I wish I’d done it earlier.” And actually yeah… So I’ve got to share that when you and I met face-to-face for the first time, we both kept asking each other, “Is anyone else doing this?” We kept, “No!” Why? It’s unbelievable to me that you can look at like what we can do and when you make these changes it improves your life and no one’s getting that out there.

Sandy: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of people that are trying to advance solar and efficiency so I wouldn’t say that but I’d say that I feel like there is a viewpoint that’s missing and the best way I can think of to say it it’s that energy is changing and if we’re energy aware what we’re saying is we need just a total cultural shift that’s actually already happening. So energy awareness you know in the 70s and 60s whatever in California was probably one of the leaders, very early leaders in efficiency and awareness about energy so that it kind of was in the same basket let’s say as recycling or seatbelts, it’s like a cultural decision. This is a social norm. We’re going to be energy efficient. And you can look at California’s consumption versus any other state and they were amazing at managing their energy consumption just because of that cultural shift. And that’s what I think can and is already spreading across the country. Energy awareness is a movement now because for the first time we can take action. Just a few years ago you would not want to buy solar panels or an electric car because they are too expensive. Today you can.

Joshua: I’m glad you didn’t just say after awareness, you then said, “and act.” I’m a little sensitive like there’s a lot of people out there who are, “Oh, I am aware” and they stop at awareness. Awareness is great but the environment doesn’t respond to your awareness. It responds to the results of your behavior.

Sandy: Yeah, no, that’s right. And so, the new energy narrative then is that we’re making progress. You know the old way of thinking about energy is just like we’re dependent. You know the problem’s just too big. The future is grim. There’s all these myths about clean energy doesn’t work or not. There’s denial about climate change and there’s a lot of climate doom and gloom. And in that environment you know it’s easy to be apathetic and just feel like, “I don’t know if I could make a difference.” But what I think Generation 180 wants people to understand is that we’ve got a whole new shift now and the narrative is actually we are making progress. These are great solutions out there. People are adopting them. It’s working. And there’s broad public support across society. You know the trends in industry are favorable and in my industry the wind and solar are at the utility scale it’s unbelievable. We supply close to 10 percent of the US power now and it’s growing exponentially up into the right.

So the new narrative is essentially saying, “Hey, the transition is already happening.” And in that lands people realize, “Hey, my choices matter. I’ve got new options. You know I can be part of the solution. This is better for… You know it’s more affordable and I’m a believer, I’m a hopeful you know more confident about the future. Let’s do our part.” So we’re just telling a story of what’s happening in this country and helping people see it. We can be confident about the future because we have our fingers on the control knobs. We don’t need to ask politicians. We don’t need to lobby. We don’t need to ask our utilities for permission. We don’t need… You know we can act today with these new products and then together with… Well, I’ll just leave it with that. That’s the main…

Joshua: Something you didn’t outright say but something that I heard is not… There’s a story, there’s a narrative and you’re giving people the experience so that they do it and they like what they do. It’s not like a hardship and they realize, “Oh, I did this. I like it. I want to do more.” Because I think that experiential component is a major piece of getting people to action and then once they act to keep acting because I really love the changes that I made in my life.

Sandy: Completely. And that’s where you’re right. So the transition from here is the narrative then the question is, “So what are you really doing, Generation 180? So you are just sort of telling the story?” And the answer is No. You know we have a call to action. We want people to be energy aware in their own lives. And I can say what that is, we want people to take local action and then we want people to just spread the word and the energy aware part is a lot about what you talk about, it’s your personal life. You know the energy aware person, first of all, the framework is they understand the transitions happening and they’re empowered by the new choices, they understand them and they’re determined to take action because they know what is involved, the stakes. And that whole logo we’ve got you know it looks like a power button if you sort of squint your eyes and the person inside represents the individual or society and the thing wrapping around them is energy awareness. And so, it symbolizes you know the power button is our ability, we’ve got the power to secure a healthy future. So the energy aware person, we have a whole, on our website, you know lots of things you can do to lower your own carbon footprint.

Joshua: Oh, wait. I am going to interrupt you here for a second because I want to frame what you’re about to say for the listeners. And tell me if this is an accurate way of looking at things. Because hearing you now talking about what’s going on in energy awareness sounds to me a lot like what you described a few minutes ago about wind when you started going to those conferences and correct me if I’m wrong but someone might say, “Oh, yeah at that time you could get into wind in the way he was. But we can’t do that now.” But I think that with you’re doing with energy awareness people start showing up to Generation 180 events and I think the opportunity for someone in what you’re doing is the opportunity that you had back then. So if someone’s like, “What can I do?” I think, tell me if I’m wrong, but framing what you’re about to say is people could be listening and thinking if they want to do something but they’re not sure what, they could show up to events of yours and they could start connecting with you guys and being like, “How can I help?” And soon enough they’ll be the ones who are giving the talks.

Sandy: Yes, completely. It’s a walk-the-talk thing. Everything about our calls to action is like we’re interested in direct carbon reduction. So we love what the 350.org is doing, for political action it’s very important. It’s a big part of the story and we think that individual changes though are a great way also to move the needle in a huge way.

So we sort of talked about the three calls to action are bio energy where the second is take local action and I’m very excited about that one because we’ve launched a study with the Solar Foundation about solar schools. And you know we want schools that are trying to go solar to have resources. Now there’s 5000 schools already in this country that have gone solar and there’s 125 000 schools in the country and there’s best practices and case studies and cost analysis and all of that. And in this study that we did with the Solar Foundation and it’s the second one, the first one was done about four years ago, and you can see how much better it’s gotten on the economic side. And so, it’s really documenting this is working.

And so our volunteers people who sign up with us work on real projects like, “Hey, let’s put solar panels on our school that make real decarbonization happen.” But more importantly or just as importantly the whole community or lots of it will hear about what’s going in their local school because of course parents and administrators and students and you know there will be a lot of talk about what’s involved and what does it cost and do we want to do this and why. And when they see that these things are actually going up that’s just a very clear… It’s a flag, you’re planting a flag in your community and it gives people permission to talk about it seriously for their own house. It’s like, “They did it over at the school, they’re saving all that money. Of course, we can do this too.” Studies have shown that word of mouth is the best way for solar spread. So we feel like we can you know be a part of and help plant and establish solar all over the place in a high visibility way.

Joshua: So anyone listening to this who’s thinking I want to do something but I don’t know what, if they contact you, at the very least they can contribute to a project and at the very most they could become a big leader in the field like you are in this, in energy awareness, in changing people’s behavior, in wiring up the schools for solar which will then start their community. Yeah, I’ve also read that the biggest indicator of somebody going solar is their neighbor having solar.

Sandy: Yeah, that’s right. And to your point, this is a huge ship and the energy industry is massive, it connects to everything, and to change everything about energy will require years and years and lots of people and lots of effort you know in just what you said you know people can be a volunteer, we have a whole program for volunteers in any part of the country they can get in touch with us and plug into that and they can take on you know a project like solar schools, they can also help spread the word. So we have a program to teach people how to give a presentation and how to you know be a part of the communications because you know studies show that’s the best way to spread an idea is you know people trust their neighbors or their family, whatever, the sources of energy that that are spoken are so much more effective than what you might do in the media.

Sandy: Man, this sounds…Let’s put it right here. I mean it’ll be on the page. But how do they contact you or who’s the right person to contact?

Joshua: So you go to generation180.org, and the 180 is a number, so generation180.org and you’ll see lots of ways to get in touch with us and to sign up for our e-mail. It’s very, very straightforward and people can certainly get in touch. I suppose you can have… You know I’m also on the website there so if you could get in touch with me that way as well, that would be great.

Joshua: Oh, man. So I really hope this leads to people contacting you and I hope that anyone listening to this who’s like, “I don’t know what to do.” Here you go. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a community, whether you guys are already or can they start something… If like say they’re in the middle of somewhere over Generation 180 has no people. Can they start something?

Sandy: Yes, you can start a chapter, you can join a chapter and we have a whole program just for individuals who are like, “Look, I can’t take on solar schools. You know I don’t have the time for that.” But you know we have something for individuals to act and then they can still be a part of the Generation 180 team. We have monthly webinars and a lot of sort of outreach to help support you know people doing this. We are basing what we’re doing on what’s called the Citizens’ Climate Lobby model. They have thousands of people nationwide. And the person who helped them set up that volunteer program is Sam Daly Harris. And what he says is, “You know volunteers you really want to give them… They’re raising their hand because they want to work on something meaningful. You want to give them important and meaningful things to work on, don’t waste their time.” Anyway, so he has a lot of really great insight about how these things get done successfully.

And I’m just going to say for your audience that Citizens’ Climate Lobby I believe is one of the most important groups for… They’re taking on the challenge and if one issue, they want a carbon price or fee on carbon and it would be a dividend back to people. So it’s called fee and dividend or it’s a carbon tax. And there are very effective…

Joshua: Did I talk to you about the language for that?

Sandy: Oh, yeah. that’s right. Yeah.

Joshua: I think because you know the Republican guy who is like instead of calling it an inheritance tax calls it the death tax and suddenly support for it look plummeted. And carbon tax as a carbon-based life form, I like carbon, pollution tax or externality tax. That to me is like… I don’t like pollution less tax pollution, less tax externalities that we all have to pay for. So I humbly submit, maybe you can communicate it to them. How about calling it an externality tax or pollution tax?

Sandy: I totally agree. And you have a lot of people who are saying similar things. I’m sure I mentioned to you the book Drawdown by Paul Hawken.

Joshua: Yes.

Sandy: He edited it.

Joshua: Yeah, you were giving me a copy but then I wouldn’t accept it because I can get it from the library and I don’t want to have to deal with the pollution of like now having the book. So not pollution of having the book. But once… Yeah, I don’t like to have stuff. So yes, and I’ve got it from the library and read through it.

Sandy: So he’s so accurate in his speech and makes a similar point to you that the language is so important. You know if you’re headed towards a cliff in a car and you just slow down, that’s not going to help you. You’ll eventually get there and go over the cliff. So slowing carbon emissions is not the idea, you know, lowering the emissions isn’t the idea. His point is we need to be at a point, he calls it drawdown, that’s the point at which carbon stop carbon emissions in the atmosphere stop going up and they start going down.

Joshua: And that’s the 180 in Generation 180, right? That switch in direction.

Sandy: That’s right. That’s right.

Joshua: Part of me really wants to talk about the video. I’m definitely going to have your video on my site somehow. I don’t think we have time to talk about it because I want to get to your challenge but I’m going to mention your video… Everyone who’s listening, go to the video on the page or go to Generation 180’s page and you’ll find the video. What’s the title of video?

Sandy: It’s The New Face of Energy. It’s just like a one-minute ad.

Joshua: And it’s not doom and gloom. It’s not, “Here’s what’s wrong with the world.” It’s about patriotism, it’s about community, it’s about self-empowerment, it’s about making our communities cleaner and contributing to communities. And it’s a voice that I have not… Outside of that ad which deserves to be in the Super Bowl, it’s not an [unintelligible] public service announcement but I’ve not seen it and as soon as I saw it I was like this is it, this is the message that I don’t see anywhere. And I think it’s effective. And there’s so much doom and gloom and so much of like yes, it’s factually correct that we do run these risks. But that’s not what motivates people. And this does. And partly I’m thinking should we talk about important this or let’s keep it as a teaser for your second conversation so people can watch…

Sandy: Great.

Joshua: That’s what I am going to do. And you said great. So people watch it. Think about it. Maybe I’ve oversold and they’ll think, “Oh, Josh said it was so great. It’s OK.” But I mean hopefully you’ll see that this is a new direction. And so, let’s in the next conversation when we speak about how your challenge went, assuming you’re taking on a challenge, then you will say how that seemed to be, what the vision was there and what’s coming next and things like that. Sounds good?

Sandy: That sounds great.


Joshua: OK. So you know that we talked about this before that I invite people to…

Sandy: Oh, wait, sorry. Can I make one sort of conclusion statement about Generation 180?

Joshua: Yes.

Sandy: It’s just an idea. If the idea spreads, it will change. And to give you to really crystallize what we’re talking about spreading the word, what we end up with is it’s just a totally new conversation that happens and it’s very natural. It’s you know you’re going to hear people saying you know, “I never go to the gas station anymore. I generate my own power. I work in the solar industry” or “I’m securing our nation’s future” or “My kids love our solar panels.” You know type of people just talking about energy in a natural way because it’s become part of their lives, that’s where we’re headed. And so the cultural shift we’re trying to propagate with Generational 180 isn’t…. We’re not trying to grow something like selling toothbrushes or something sort of linear growth or exponential growth, if you can picture exponential curve, we’re not trying to head for exponential or even viral growth.

What we want is like crystallization throughout society the way a social norm becomes rooted and durable and changes outcomes. That’s what energy awareness movement is doing. And we’re really just trying to advance that. It’s like an idea, like the snap of you know it can happen that quick. And, just my last statement about it, you know Victor Hugo has a quote that says you know, “You can resist an invading army but you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” And that’s where I think we are the time for this is totally right. And this is the right idea at the right time and it’s spreading so people can be a part of it.

Joshua: I’m so glad you said that. And so many people out there have this view of “If I do something but the others don’t, what difference does it make?” and what you’re saying is the antithesis of that. Ultimately, that’s the opposite of leadership. It’s saying, “I’m going to act against my values following everybody else” as opposed to “acting by my values and leading everybody else and creating meaning and purpose.” And you’re giving people a way to do that.

Sandy: Right.

Joshua: You’re crystallizing it.

Sandy: Right. Yeah. Well said.

Joshua: Man, thank you. All right. Now we’re going to talk about if you’re up for it… OK. Alright, let me ask you this question. What about the environment… I hear passion there. If so, what’s the passion? What is it? What motivates you about the environment?

Sandy: Oh boy, I think I’m like a lot of people. You know I just think about the future and I can see that there’s a number of ways things can go and I can see that we all have an opportunity to make it go the right way and it’s a race, it’s urgent. You know, let’s do it. It’s all about giving us the best shot possible at not tripping up some type of feedback loop on the carbon cycle that’s going to get out of control and really make it difficult to be a lifeform on this planet.

And that’s the downside of it. I think you point out a couple of times and I totally agree is that I want people to understand that we totally have a fair and good shot at getting this done. We’ve got everything we need to get this done. It’s totally possible and we have to get out of the mindset that this isn’t going to work and you know that’s just depressing. I don’t think I’m confusing myself about that. I think that there is a very good shot for us as a society to change our direction.

Joshua: So as I’m hearing it’s… Everyone has a unique perspective. I love hearing different people’s views because some people are looking forward. You’re looking forward at a future that we can have and I feel like you’re motivated by an ability to make that… You can play a role in making that happen.

Sandy: Yeah, I feel like if only everybody knew this. There’s a certain set of facts around what’s happening in clean energy that is very positive and very few people are aware of what’s happening and so this is a part of getting us into the solution. So that’s really motivating. I feel like we’ve got something valuable to share.

Joshua: And you’re also speaking from experience yourself like you are not just some pie in the sky dreamer. Let me see, four billion dollars of wind and solar facilities now operating across the country, I’m just looking at your bio, and over a gigawatt of installations, like you’re not just saying like, you are not some sort of a dreamer.

Sandy: Yeah. You know I’ll brag for a second. And I’m bragging for Apex, this company Apex Clean Energy, in 2015 we installed more wind power than anybody else nationwide. It was over 1 gigawatt in one year and that’s enough to power a city the size of San Francisco. And that’s just five wind farms. Yeah.

Joshua: Some people listening to this right now are probably listening through power that was generated by you or your team.

Sandy: Maybe. You know you can’t claim any specific electron that’s going through the wires. But you know as an industry we’re providing 10 percent of the energy now in the United States, almost 10 percent, we are approaching it quickly.

Here’s, let me just share one thing along those lines like milestones. People don’t probably realize that solar was the number one source of energy in 2016, a new source, sorry, new source coming online.

Joshua: The biggest growth.

Sandy: Yeah, the biggest addition of new capacity with solar and wind was right behind it and in the past 10 years we’ve crushed it. If you just look at net capacity additions of fossil fuels versus clean energy, fossils added plenty of new fossil plants have come online unfortunately but they’ve retired many, many more. And so, almost 90 percent of the change in energy capacity that’s happened has been supplied by clean energy, wind and solar over the past decade, 90 percent. That is a fact. And so that gives you an idea of how fast things are shifting. It’s the net additions and subtractions and fossil site and all the additions in clean energy side. So we’re really moving beyond coal, it’s going mainstream, achieving these milestones. Another one for you, you know, globally there’s more wind power installed now than there is nuclear power as far as capacity.

Joshua: So all the solar, all this wind, that means I should go out and turn the air conditioner whenever I want and just energy…

Sandy: No.

Joshua: OK. So what should people conclude about their energy use? Because actually after you’ve done all that, your next step was to reduce consumption. So as important as that was, why is it so important that we still reduce consumption?

Sandy: Well, it’s two sides of the same coin and I’d like everybody just to picture a graph and picture energy demand going up and to the right. That’s just a line going up into the right. That’s what happens is we consume more and more energy over the years and as we do so if you want to produce everything from 100 percent clean energy, you can just picture clean energy trying to catch it and it’s going up and it has to accelerate really fast.

So we have to add a lot of energy and catch that energy demand that’s going up. Well, what if, and this is our objective, this is what we tell people we’re trying to do with our actions, what if we could make the energy demand grow, I mean it’s going to anyway but just not as fast? You would be lowering that curves, so you would be bending it down. And what if you could bend the clean energy acceleration and ramp up if you can make that go faster? You would catch the energy demand faster. And so, we think, conceptually of course, you know if it’s going to take us 50 years to do it, maybe we could do it in 25 years if we bend both the curves. I don’t have any data on that to say that it’s definitively we can make 50 years 25. But it is what society should be aiming for. Changing both consumption and production of energy.

Joshua: Okay. I’m glad that…If a lot of people think, “Someday we’ll have all the solar so it doesn’t matter what I do.” And so, there’s a certain amount of time and the earlier we can do it, reach where we’re not using fossil fuels, we’re not contributing to greenhouse effect, the safer we are. I mean the sea levels are rising.

Sandy: That’s right. And here’s an interesting thought because you’re right there is… One thing I’ll just say is the day you put solar panels on your roof most people at that point start looking around their house and saying, “Maybe I should change my light bulbs, you know maybe I can do other things to be efficient because I’ve got that solar on my roof and I’m using clean energy.” Some people might say, “Hey it’s solar, it’s free, I’ll use as much as I want. I’ll get more light bulbs.” But there’s this other really neat aspect to it that is like your own utility, it’s local energy. Everything then becomes, you are much more aware of energy, and you have that motivator to say naturally because you’ll save money.

So when you are not using all your solar you’re exporting it to the grid, you’re going to be paid for it or it’s just going to lower your bill and you can get to a place where your bill’s essentially zero for usage and you might have some connection charge. But you know a lot of people pay attention to their production and consumption and they like to see the net result when every month their bill is zero on the consumption side. And I think that’s a huge motivator.

Joshua: Yeah, I have found that certainly people taking on the challenges on this podcast is that doing it leads them to want to do more. It’s the opposite of what they expect before they do it. So I guess people might think, “Oh, energy will be free, I’ll just use it all.” But then it’s energy… They get more in touch with it and then more connected with it, they realize what’s going on and then they use it more thoughtfully.

Sandy: Thoughtfully. And here’s another twist is, “Hey, why don’t I get an electric car? Because electricity is like three times cheaper, two to three times cheaper than gasoline and I’ll power it with my solar panels. So I’m driving on sunshine.” Then you are driving on sunshine. Yeah. It’s an amazing concept. And so that’s where again local energy is all about it’s like I get my tomatoes from the garden, I get my water from the well, I get my energy from my roof.

Joshua: So now you are looking to a future that you can help create, reducing consumption is important. I invite you now at your option to take on a personal challenge which I’m not sure if you thought of one already but I want to go through the things, like the constraints and the relaxing constraints because it doesn’t have to solve all the world’s problems overnight. I don’t think I have to tell you that. But some people think, “Well, if it doesn’t do everything, why do anything?’ And it can’t be something that you’re telling other people to do. And it has to be something you come up with yourself and it has to make some appreciable difference, some measurable difference in what you care about. So it can’t just be like awareness or knowledge, it has to make a measurable change. Some people by this stage have something, some people don’t, we have to talk it through. But are you interested in doing something?

Sandy: I definitely am and I’m familiar with your approach here and I love it. I’ve got my thing.

Joshua: Cool. So you’ve thought about it ahead of time?

Sandy: I have.

Joshua: Please share it.

Sandy: I love hamburgers and beef and I know that it’s one of the big, big contributors to climate change, not because of the methane that cows you know produce and put into the atmosphere, it’s really because of land use to produce all the grains, to feed them and then their grazing areas that is… Anyway, so the carbon, it’s one of the highest carbon things you can do in your diet is to eat meat and especially beef. And so, I am going to pledge to reduce my beef to zero for the coming month.

Joshua: All right. So actually, oh, today is February 1. Perfect. Did you time that?

Sandy: No, no.

Joshua: So I want to make sure – you said beef or meat?

Sandy: Beef.

Joshua: OK. Because I like to make these SMART goals. I’ve learned that in this podcast its leadership followed by management. You’ve got to get people wanting to do something but then you also have to really like make it a SMART goal. So no beef for one month. And then something that I share with people the biggest challenges that I see people face. One of them is other people and the other one is travel. I just want to prepare you. Things will come up that you can’t think of. But have you thought about what might happen if you were visiting some friends and they serve you a steak or you know there’s nothing to eat but a hamburger of what you might do?

Sandy: I hope I can resist it. If I’m really hungry and I am at somebody’s house, I know it’ll be a challenge but I’ll do my best.

Joshua: OK. I’ll put that out there. I can tell you a couple of the strategies. The big ones are one is my strategy for most of these things which is I’m just going to figure how to do it. And I’m going to like I’ll go hungry for a meal and I’ll just eat a bigger meal when I get home. But another big thing is a lot of people say, “You know if something happens, then maybe at that time I’ll do that, but I’ll put an extra day or maybe go to a thirty first day.” But what they don’t say is any failure means it’s all over.

And the other big challenge is when people travel is that they find themselves in situations like they can’t control their environment like they do at home. And so same type of thing is like are you going to… Like me, I don’t eat meat. So I figured out. But some people are like, “All right. I’ll pause it and restart later.” Or something like that. I put that there not to tell you what the answers are or even to pretend to suggest that if you prepare for enough, then you’ll prepare for everything but just that these things come up.

Sandy: Yeah, no, that’s great advice. That will be challenging.

Joshua: And I look forward to hearing about it. I have my calendar out. Are you up for scheduling when our next conversation will be? About a month from now, I propose.

Sandy: Sure, sure, that would be fun.

Joshua: So March 1, March 2, March 3, March 4? Anyone that look best for you? They’re pretty open for me.

Sandy: Thursdays or Fridays are best.

Joshua: OK. So, let’s see, we’re Thursday, at 10:30 now. So what don’t we do Thursday at 10:30? So that would be exactly one month to the hour.

Sandy: Nice. I’m going to have a hamburger next to me. Or maybe not.

Joshua: That’s the thing. If you knew, you wouldn’t be doing it. So after we hang up if it’s cool with you I’ll just e-mail you a calendar invitation. And we’ll also start talking about the video and get to more depth about that although we might just talk about the experience. So anything that I didn’t think to bring up that’s worth bringing up or any message that you want to give to the people who are listening before we wrap up?

Sandy: Yeah, there’s one myth that is about clean energy that I find especially troubling is when people say, “Well, that just means we’re going to cover the whole country you know with solar panels. That’s never going to work. We have to have wind turbines everywhere.” And you know golf courses in this country take up as much land as we’re going to need for wind turbines if their turbines were all right next to each other, if you just put them next to each other. Of course, you don’t do that. You spread them out so that they don’t draft each other. But the area you spread out to is about the size of maybe a little smaller than Kansas. So that would power the whole country. And so that seems achievable and that’s if wind was powering everything.

And the story for solar is very similar. You know all the panels you would need actually you know that would cover the state the size of maybe South Carolina, less than that, but guess what? Rooftops can absorb about half of that. You know the existing rooftop. So we have plenty of room to do this. And don’t be discouraged if you hear people bringing up myths like that because there’s a lot of false information out there and that’s part of what we’re battling.

Joshua: I love this hopeful optimistic grounded in experience perspective. I hope it’s infectious. I hope it really infects others as much as it does me. If that’s the right word.

Sandy: Yeah, well, that’s what makes it easy is when it’s a pleasant story to tell. We can do this.

Joshua: Thank you very much and I look forward to talking to you in a month. And good luck with the challenge.

Sandy: Great job. Thank you. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.


When most of the world wants less pollution, less global warming, a safer environment, the environment is huge potential for business, for leadership, for getting ahead. Sandy lived it. He’s a great example. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. I’ve had [unintelligible] from Google, from Apple, from oil companies who have found and created opportunities for them to get hired, to get promoted, to move ahead for responsibility. This is opportunity for them. This is opportunity for you if that’s what you want to do. It’s huge opportunity for success.

Still I want to point out, he sees conservation as the next step, at least for him, and that’s also about building community, that’s about leading people, that’s about delivering people what they crave. Again, please watch the video. I recommend it highly as this is the direction I think leadership will take of not telling people what to do, not making them feel guilty but pointing ways to personal success, better relationships, better communities and so forth.

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