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Profiles in Leadership

Elliot Mainzer

Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy,
Bonneville Power Administration

Elliot Mainzer found himself at the interface of business and environment unexpectedly, as most of us do. Spending a junior semester abroad from his studies at U.C. Berkeley in 1987, Elliot lived in India, where he was exposed to the issues surrounding large hydroelectric infrastructure projects in the developing world. Returning to Berkeley, Elliot declared a geography major and began to research the lending practices of the World Bank and other investors in large-scale energy infrastructure in emerging markets. His conclusion? That the answer was not more and more coal-fired power plants, but instead, grid-scale penetration of renewable energy production. With a few detours along the way, Elliot has worked to achieve this goal--first internationally, and now domestically.

Prior to entering Yale, Elliot spent time traveling and volunteering, including as a photojournalist for the International Rivers Network (IRN). Although he worked in public health, research, and advocacy, he sustained his interest in renewable energy, and ultimately applied to FES to pursue a career in the field. (Upon arriving in New Haven, Elliot decided to pursue the joint degree, and applied to SOM.) Prior to entering FES in the fall of 1995, Elliot traveled to Lesotho to write an article for IRN about an impending dam construction project. Elliot then visited the University of Capetown, where he became very interested in the efforts of the newly-elected ANC government to establish a new regulatory paradigm, one that would incorporate more renewable energy sources.

Elliot returned to Capetown to pursue his interest in South African energy policy during his first summer of graduate school, researching integrated resource planning efforts in the United States to serve as models for South African policymakers. In the course of his research, Elliot made a fateful discovery: Enron. The firm was just beginning to pioneer trading strategies around deregulated energy markets, and Elliot was intrigued by how these strategies could be used to increase renewable energy penetration. Upon returning to school--SOM this time--Elliot read a Wall Street Journal article about Enron's decision to purchase a wind and solar energy company in California. He decided he needed to understand this company better; that summer, he took an internship there, and following graduation, Elliot joined the firm full-time.

After a couple of years learning the basics of merchant power--analyzing risk, conducting pricing analysis, understanding weather derivatives, etc.--Elliot had had enough of spreadsheets. He moved into renewables, establishing Enron's first renewables trading desk in Portland, Oregon. But timing is everything in life, and in this case Elliot's was historic; he opened the desk in March, 2001, and within ten months, Enron was no more.

Searching for a new job, Elliot knew he wanted to stay in the Pacific Northwest--but he also wanted to get out of merchant power and move into physical infrastructure provision, returning to his original goal of increasing penetration of renewable energy into the grid. He took a job with the Bonneville Power Administration--which, after all, was the backbone of the power and transmission system in the region. He came in to BPA as a manager of pricing and transaction analysis, using the skills he'd amassed at Enron. But he shortly moved into more direct roles increasing the renewables market in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the past seven years, Elliot has worked in various capacities at BPA. He worked to improve storage services for wind energy, which can be intermittent in supply and often generates the most power in off-peak hours. Responding to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's call for an increase of 6,000MW in wind energy usage, Elliot worked with regional utilities and wind developers to create the Northwest Wind Integration Action Plan. The plan provides an implementation strategy that identifies what will be needed operationally and from an infrastructure perspective to integrate the additional wind power. One outcome of the plan was an evident need for improved transmission development policies to increase transmission capacity throughout the grid. As manager of transmission policy and strategy, Elliot led the development of BPA's first Network Open Season, which established a process for clearing the transmission development queue, and resulted in signed contracts for 4,700MW of new transmission capacity. BPA is now constructing the first of several new transmission lines to meet this increased demand.

Today, Elliot has responsibility for the overall agency strategy for a portfolio of issues including climate change, regional transmission planning, industry restructuring and renewables integration. He is excited about what he calls the "sea change" underway in American energy policy under the new Administration, and sees tremendous opportunity for those of us in the energy & environment space to shape energy policy in the next year or two.

Recalling his years at Yale, Elliot says, "it was the perfect educational opportunity for me. SOM gave me the hard-edged business skills I needed in my career in utilities. I use statistics, decision analysis, and finance every day, and the courses I took at SOM in derivatives, risk management, finance, and economics served me well. At FES, I was able to shape my vision for a more sustainable economy. I used every opportunity I had to do research on energy and the environment, and I was surrounded by an incredible community of people, some of whom became life-long friends."