The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) new leadership team is a diverse group of individuals with a wide range of experience across the power sector and academia. The names announced Jan. 21 include Kelly Speakes-Backman, who has served as the first CEO of the Energy Storage Association (ESA) and was a keynote speaker at POWER’s Distributed Energy Conference in October 2020.
The DOE in a statement Thursday said, “These new leaders will direct policy at DOE, coordinate across the Administration, and enact President Joe Biden’s vision for bold action on the climate crisis and on safeguarding the Americans most affected by it.” The incoming group includes two newly created jobs—a deputy director for energy justice, and a director of energy jobs, each considered part of Biden’s plan to study environmental justice and to include the creation of jobs in clean energy as part of his administration’s effort to address climate change.
The incoming group will work with new DOE chief Jennifer Granholm, tabbed by Biden in December 2020 to lead the agency. Granholm is a former Michigan governor whose experience with the auto industry is expected to be valuable as Biden likely seeks to accelerate U.S. adoption of electric vehicles and put government support behind construction of a nationwide network of charging stations. Granholm is among the Biden Cabinet appointees awaiting Senate confirmation; a hearing for Granholm is scheduled for Jan. 29.
Tarak Shah will serve as the DOE’s chief of staff. Shah is the first person of color, first Indian-American, and first openly LGBTQ person to serve in that position at the agency. Shah in a statement said of the incoming group, “These talented and diverse public servants will deliver on President Biden’s goal to tackle the climate crisis and build an equitable clean energy future. Guided by their expertise, breadth of experience, and following the science, these Department of Energy appointees will contribute to creating a clean energy economy that produces millions of good-paying American jobs and safeguards the planet for future generations.”
Shah is considered an expert on energy policy, and has spent the past decade working on combating climate change. Shah was personnel lead for the Climate and Science team during the Biden-Harris transition. He served as chief of staff to the Under Secretary for Science and Energy at DOE from 2014–2017.
Other notable appointees include David G. Huizenga, who will serve as Acting Secretary of Energy. He was most recently Associate Principal Deputy Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration and has been a career employee at DOE since 1987. Huizenga immediately replaces Trump Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who left office Wednesday after Biden was sworn in.
Speakes-Backman will be the DOE’s principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the energy industry, often focusing on environmental issues. Energy storage is expected to be among the Biden administration’s priorities as the White House puts a new emphasis on clean energy among the DOE’s offices and national laboratories.
“The U.S. Energy Storage Association Board of Directors congratulates Kelly Speakes-Backman on her appointment to the U.S. Department of Energy as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” said ESA Board Chairman John D. Hewa, president and CEO of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, in a statement. “Kelly has led ESA through a pivotal shift in the industry with record-breaking growth in 2020, despite the challenges from COVID-19. As the Biden-Harris Administration takes office, and as the storage industry enters a new phase of accelerated market growth, energy storage is poised to become central to America’s clean energy economy to enable a more resilient, efficient, sustainable, and affordable grid for all.”
Hewa said Jason Burwen, the group’s vice president of policy, will take over as interim CEO of ESA, effective immediately. “We look forward to working with the incoming administration and Congress to ensure that policies are enacted to enable further deployment of energy storage and ensure America’s position as a leader in clean energy and energy innovation,” said Hewa.
Other DOE appointees announced Thursday include:
Shalanda H. Baker, Deputy Director for Energy Justice. Baker was most recently a professor of law, public policy, and urban affairs at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the co-founder and co-director of the Initiative for Energy Justice, which provides technical law and policy support to communities working on climate change initiatives.
Vanessa Z. Chan, Director, Office of Technology Transitions (Chief Commercialization Officer). Chan has been a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was the Brassington Professor of Practice and the Undergraduate Chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department. “She has spent the past 20 years helping large companies commercialize their technologies and revamping the academic curriculum of engineering students to make a greater social impact,” according to DOE.
Robert Cowin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Engagement. Cowin was most recently director of government affairs for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He also previously worked for the National Environmental Trust, where he helped organize national campaigns focused on climate change, clean energy, and clean air.
Tanya Das, Chief of Staff, Office of Science. Das was most recently a professional staff member on the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where she worked on legislation on a range of issues in clean energy and manufacturing policy.
Christopher Davis, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy. Davis served all eight years of the Obama administration, first in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and then in several senior roles at DOE.
Ali Douraghy, Chief of Staff, Office of the Under Secretary for Science & Energy. Douraghy was most recently Chief Strategy Officer for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area.
Caroline Grey, White House Liaison. Grey worked for the Biden campaign as Expansion States Director, managing distributed engagement in 33 states. She co-founded Civis Analytics, a data science firm.
Todd Kim, Deputy General Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement. Kim most recently was a partner at Reed Smith LLP, and before that was the first Solicitor General for the District of Columbia, serving in that capacity more than 11 years.
Jennifer Jean Kropke, Director of Energy Jobs. Kropke served as the first Director of Workforce and Environmental Engagement for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 11 and the National Electrical Contractors’ Association-Los Angeles’ Labor Management Cooperation Committee. She focused on creating clean energy, port electrification, and zero-emission transportation opportunities for union members. The 775,000-member IBEW gave Biden a critical endorsement in February 2020, citing his embrace of clean energy technology.
Andrew Light, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs. Light has worked on international climate and energy policy in and outside of government for the past 15 years. From 2013 to 2016, he served as Senior Adviser and India Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, as well as a climate adviser in the Secretary of State’s Office of Policy Planning.
David A. Mayorga, Director of Public Affairs. Mayorga most recently served as Director of Communications for the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl A. Racine. Previously, he was Senior Spokesperson for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and led communications for DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.
Shara Mohtadi, Chief of Staff, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Mohtadi has focused her career on advising policymakers and international organizations about mitigating climate change and advancing clean energy policies. She most recently led the America’s Pledge initiative and managed grants focused on the coal to clean energy transition in Asia and Australia at Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Ali Nouri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. Nouri is a molecular biologist and most recently was the President of the Federation of American Scientists, which addresses global health and security risks.
Narayan Subramanian, Legal Advisor, Office of General Counsel. Subramanian was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment at Berkeley Law, leading a project tracking regulatory rollbacks, and served as a Fellow at the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy at Johns Hopkins University and Data for Progress.
Shuchi Talati, Chief of Staff, Office of Fossil Energy. Talati was most recently a Senior Policy Advisor at Carbon180 where she focused on policies to build sustainable and equitable technological carbon removal at scale.
Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy. Wilcox was most recently the Presidential Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute. Wilcox’s work examines the nexus of energy and the environment, developing strategies to minimize negative climate impacts associated with society’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Avi Zevin, Deputy General Counsel for Energy Policy. Zevin is an attorney with experience advancing policies that enable the provision of carbon-free, reliable, and cost-effective electricity.
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).