Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Energy center's forward thinker
Anders' Peace Corps training prepped him for EPIC role at USD
November 22, 2005
At its best, the Peace Corps provides language training, skills development and a cultural sensitivity that give volunteers at least a shot at making a significant contribution in their host country.
But when Scott Anders was posted to a village in Mali in West Africa 12 years ago, he learned something else: Despite the training, his job might have been better described as making something from nothing by building relationships.
Anders starts his latest post, as the first director of the newly created Energy Policy Initiative Center at the University of San Diego, with substantial resources. But the job of creating something from nothing may tax the same skills he needed a decade ago.
The center was launched with $2.7 million from a settlement paid by Duke Energy to resolve allegations of electricity market rigging and overcharging during the energy crisis.
The founders of EPIC conceived the center as a forum for research, study for USD law students, public education and legal advocacy. They hope it will become a source of long-range thinking about energy, a painful subject in this region since the 2000-'01 crisis and the recent surge in gasoline and natural gas prices.
Additionally, the founders hope the center will encourage the use of alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources.
Anders previously worked for six years at the San Diego Regional Energy Office, where he played a key role in creating the policy framework that enables solar projects to be built. During his tenure at the energy office, the number of solar installations in the region grew from about a dozen to roughly 2,000.
"We didn't haul the photovoltaic modules up onto the roofs, but we played a role in developing the policies that let the contractors do that," Anders said.
In the process, Anders developed a reputation as an expert on solar energy policy. The new energy center, he said, should play a role in influencing public policy to deal with vigorous regional growth and a transition away from fossil fuels.
"Even if the oil decline begins 50 years from now, that is pretty scary," Anders said. "We are seeing the beginning of a fundamental shift in how we think about energy."
Robert Fellmeth, director of USD's Center for Public Interest Law, a key figure in the creation of the new energy center and in selecting Anders, said the founders were seeking a long-term approach to energy issues from an entity with academic credibility.
"After the crisis, the thinking was some money ought to look (ahead) and what can be done to prevent future debacles," said Fellmeth, who earlier helped found the Utility Consumers' Action Network, a San Diego consumer advocacy group.
USD's work in public interest law made it a natural home for the energy center, he said. And, from a practical perspective, Fellmeth said, the university can help keep the new center's overhead low.
For now, Anders is EPIC's sole employee. He's in an office on the ground floor of a USD law school building as he gets the center up and running. He is helping to develop a law school course on energy and hopes to develop a legal clinic that would work on similar issues.
Temporary space should be no big deal to Anders. After losing his Lakeside home in the Cedar fire of 2003, Anders and his family have lived in a mobile home until his house can be rebuilt.
Anders grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania north of Philadelphia, within a single-parent household headed by his mother. He was a high school basketball star – "my world revolved around basketball" – who discovered academics while attending Muhlenberg College, where he also played varsity ball.
The school transformed the self-confessed jock.
"Suddenly, I discovered that I loved my classes, and I loved learning," Anders said.
After college, Anders fulfilled his dream of joining the Peace Corps and was posted in Mali. He played a role in introducing soybeans to that nation and worked on family planning and AIDS-prevention projects.
Anders, who calls the Peace Corps his most important learning experience, says working in the villages of Mali helped him develop the skills to bridge the gap between abstract learning and concrete results.
"What counted was how good you were at getting things done," he said.
One more benefit of his service: He met his wife, Abby, also a Peace Corps volunteer.
Afterward, Anders got a master's degree in public policy from the University of Maryland and spent two years at a think tank in Washington, D.C., focusing on energy and environmental policy.
He came to San Diego to work at the regional energy office.
"When I hired him, he hit the ground running," said Kurt Kammerer, former executive director of the energy office and now a consultant.
As the energy crisis unfolded, Kammerer said, Anders essentially ran the office while he dealt with what he called political pressures.
"The role of the new energy center should be to deliver unquestioned policy analysis, and Scott is absolutely the guy to do it," Kammerer said.
San Diego Gas & Electric, perhaps the loudest voice in regional energy affairs, said it welcomed Anders' appointment.
"Scott Anders is bright and possesses a good understanding of energy issues," said Ed Van Herik, a spokesman for SDG&E.
Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers' Action Network, a frequent critic of SDG&E, said Anders appears to have an ideal blend of strengths for the new post.
"What has always struck me about Scott is that he comes to energy policy freed of any ideology or agenda other than trying to find a balanced and forward-thinking approach to the issues," Shames said.
Irene Stillings, current executive director of the regional energy office, said Anders' talent and social conscience made him a good choice to head the new energy policy center.
Stillings said Anders also displayed a personal quality that was equally impressive.
"I found he was incredibly resistant when he lost his home in the fires two years ago," Stillings said. "He didn't dwell on the loss – he went on with his life."
Anders said a top priority of the new energy center is to stabilize its funding base. That will require a doubling of its endowment to at least $3 million, he said.
Beyond fundraising, Anders says the new center will likely host a symposium on carbon regulation, an area of increasing interest as policy-makers seek to rein in the damaging byproducts of fossil-fuel combustion.
Anders believes strongly in the power of economic incentives to drive changes in energy use. However, he recognizes that tax incentives – namely higher energy taxes on fossil fuels like gasoline to encourage alternative fuel development and use – aren't a viable part of the policy debate now.
"We should be taxing the 'bads,' not the 'goods,' " said Anders, referring to polluting and nonpolluting sources of energy. "But anyone who brings up higher prices gets run out of the room."
On the other hand, Anders, a strong advocate of solar energy, says it's unlikely that the sun will be widely tapped until there is tax policy or broader incentives to encourage it.
Read the entire story utsandiego.com.