The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Gregory Wetstone of ACORE
In this our 18th Q&A, we’re happy to welcome Gregory Wetstone, the President and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). For this Common Sense Colloquy, we asked Greg to share his insight on communications challenges and lessons learned along with our standard questions about the best communications advice he’s received and the best communications advice he gives to others.
Greg joined ACORE as President and CEO in January 2016, building on an already-impressive career that has included numerous substantive roles at the intersection of policy and business. Prior to joining ACORE, Greg served as Vice President for Terra-Gen Power LLC, a renewable energy company with utility-scale wind, solar and geothermal energy facilities. Earlier, he was Senior Director for Government and Public Affairs at the American Wind Energy Association and Director of Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Greg was formerly the Senior Counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he played an important role in crafting laws such as the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Greg has a Juris Doctor degree from Duke University School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Florida State University.
Agency President Ben Finzel has known Greg for more than 20 years, having worked with him as a colleague in the U.S. House in the 1990s. Greg has been a leading force in renewable energy policy in Washington for decades and we’re thrilled to have this opportunity to share his perspective and wisdom.
Our BIG thanks to Greg for sharing his time and insight with us – and you.
Q: Renewable energy is now a widely accepted part of the energy generation conversation in the U.S. What communications challenges do you still face as you work to promote the industry in the United States?
A: We’re fortunate that renewable energy is broadly appealing across the political spectrum, as affirmed by a long list of polls. More than that, electricity touches all of us almost every hour of the day, so there’s a lot in the renewable energy sector for people to relate to, especially for those who understand and care about climate risks. But ours is a technical industry that relies on wonky policies, and our challenge is to find clear and understandable ways to communicate our priorities so we can tap and amplify that overwhelming public support, even in technical areas like electricity policy and tax law.
Q: What communications lessons do you think the renewables industry has learned from the experience of the past two decades with technologies such as wind and solar? Are there any lessons you think other energy industries can adapt for their use?
A: We have a strong story to tell in terms of both economic and environmental benefits. The importance of renewable energy as a national economic driver has been especially key in building bipartisan support. Today, the renewable industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, supports tens of billions of dollars in annual investment, and enjoys strong support from residential consumers and American businesses. And we can personalize those statistics by emphasizing the positive impacts renewables are having on communities from coast to coast. It’s a winning recipe.
Q: Your career has included service as a senior Hill staffer, NGO advocate, technology developer and industry trade association executive. How have those experiences shaped your approach to advocating for renewables in your position at ACORE?
A: I suppose we all benefit from the sum total of our experience. It’s helpful to be able to relate to the perspectives of the range of players active in the policy and business realms. One lesson I’d emphasize concerns the importance of coalition building in strengthening our advocacy. A key aspect of the collaborative, pan-renewable advocacy we undertake at ACORE is that we are able to start with a broad coalition of renewable sector players, working across renewable technologies with developers, manufacturers, investors, utilities, and corporate renewable consumers. We work hard to forge more sweeping alliances to maximize our impact on joint priorities. In 2017 for example, we worked closely with the American Petroleum Institute in opposition to Department of Energy proposals to intervene in competitive electricity markets to prop up aging coal and nuclear power plants that are no longer economically viable. Today, we’re working with a diverse coalition in support of an investment tax credit (ITC) for energy storage, a cross-cutting policy with significant near-term climate benefits and broad appeal across the political spectrum.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Be concise, keep your audience in mind, and never believe your own hype.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: If you want press attention to help the public understand a complex issue, begin with the big picture -- the 30,000 foot level, if you will -- and stay out of the weeds.