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  • Writer's pictureBen Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Melanie Kenderdine of EFI

Welcome to our seventh Common Sense Colloquy, a Q&A with Melanie Kenderdine, a principal at Energy Futures Initiative. RENEWPR President Ben Finzel has worked with Melanie as both a colleague and client over the past two decades.

Melanie has held senior-level positions at the U.S. Department of Energy under two administrations. Most recently, she served as the energy counselor to Secretary Ernest J. Moniz and director of the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis. In this role, she presided over the two installments of the Quadrennial Energy Review, and provided key strategic advice on a broad range of issues across the department.

Prior to that, she was the Executive Director of the MIT Energy Initiative. Melanie also held several posts in the Clinton administration, including senior policy advisor to the secretary, director of the Office of Policy, and deputy assistant secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. She came to Washington with then-New Mexico Congressman (and future Energy Secretary) Bill Richardson, serving as his legislative director and then chief of staff.

Our thanks to Melanie for sharing her time and insight with us – and you.

Q: Energy Futures Initiative has made headlines recently with a new study on the impact of tax credits on carbon capture projects and its takeover of the U.S. Energy and Employment report from the Department of Energy. Despite the headlines, EFI is perhaps not as well-known outside energy circles. What are your primary objectives and how do you communicate about them?

A: EFI’s principal mission is to harness the power of innovation to accelerate the development of a low-carbon energy economy, both in the US and around the globe. An important component of this mission is conducting unbiased, expert policy and technology analyses to inform various stakeholders about workable policy pathways and technology options for deep decarbonization.

Q: What energy topics are next on the "breakthrough" agenda nationally? What will we all be talking about over the next year?

The prospect of new projects assisted by the recent expansion of the “45Q” tax credit is exciting – this expansion creates the potential to significantly enhance the development and diffusion of carbon capture and utilization technologies. This has important regional and global implications and potential. Several other technologies merit considerable attention and investment: storage and battery technologies, small nuclear reactors, grid modernization, advanced manufacturing, building efficiency, sunlight to fuels, and the hydrogen economy. We are also focused on smart communities that have the potential to unlock significant opportunities for clean energy innovation.

Q: You have such a diverse background in energy having worked on the Hill, in the Clinton and Obama administrations and in academia. Has it gotten easier to communicate about energy over time or do you find yourself doing some of the same things you might have done in the 80s and 90s?

A: Energy has always been a complicated subject. What’s changed are the high stakes associated with the transition to a clean energy economy -- explaining to people why this transition matters has never been more important. Part of our communications mission at EFI is to identifyfact-based, analytically driven energy solutions and to lay them out in ways that are understandable for business leaders, policymakers and the public at large. Without buy-in from key stakeholders, we won’t get the investments we need to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?

A: I’ve learned a lot by working closely with Secretary Moniz for over 20 years. He has a unique ability to take the most complicated energy challenges and topics and lay out options and solutions in clear, concise and coherent ways – an unusual skill for a theoretical physicist! Recently, I joined the Secretary and my colleague Joe Hezir in an op-ed about helping to finance new energy infrastructure projects using the Department of Energy’s existing loan program authority – the focus of op-eds on essential points in a concise format can have significant impact. I am also a firm believer in “pictures saying a thousand words.” I attend many, many conferences, workshops and forums. I dislike it when people put their entire speeches on slides, bullet-by-illegible-bullet; or show detailed graphs with small type and invisible legends that audiences can neither read nor comprehend as slides flash by. I spend a lot of time creating pictures that effectively communicate key issues, concepts and reality-based solutions to our climate, economic and security needs.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?

A: Always tell the truth, be factual, unbiased and analytical, know that science matters. At the same time, be creative, be original, and respect your audience.

Melanie Kenderdine

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