Electric Road Trip

Wind pioneer sees power of EVs

Michael Skelly doesn't always travel by car. But when he does, he prefers electric.

The 57-year-old founder of Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners, which recently sold most of its fleet of long-haul transmission projects for delivering wind power, is now a senior adviser at Lazard Ltd. He's also an avid cyclist and a critic of a proposal to expand Interstate 45 in Houston.

Skelly is featured in a new book, "Superpower: One Man's Quest to Transform American Energy." He spoke recently with E&E News about how people can adapt to a changing energy environment.

How are you feeling about Houston these days?

Sometimes I'm super excited because we've got this crazy mix of people and kind of a fundamental optimism to the city. And we don't know what it's going to look like when it's done.

Having said that, we got big challenges. It's likely that in the next — you know, pick your time frame, is it 10 years, 20 years, 30 years — one of the main things that we sell, which is oil, will hit peak oil consumption because of electric mobility.

When you say oil, do you mean peak consumption globally or in the U.S.?

Globally. Many experts say that.

That doesn't mean we stop using oil entirely. But it does mean that, you know, like we're in $30 [per barrel] oil for a long time. That makes things more challenging.

And then we have climate challenges as well.

Do you think people tied to oil and gas are trying EVs, buying EVs in Houston?

Yeah, I mean, I see a few people around town doing that. For sure.

And by the way, electric mobility isn't just electric cars. So there's a ton of stuff happening on electric bicycles, and they're hugely popular in Europe. So try riding an electric bike.

I just find it super helpful to travel electrically whenever I can because it helps me understand the possibilities at a sort of visceral level.

At a company level, you know, if you've got a fleet of vehicles take a really hard look at what it would take. Can you save money by electrifying your fleet? And then what are the challenges in terms of infrastructure and so on?

If you're building new apartments, think about prewiring or wiring it up for EVs in the future. If you believe in autonomous vehicles, then people are not going to have cars.

When you see parking garages going up around Houston, do you see stranded assets?

What I see is a government requirement that you build a lot of parking. That's annoying and bothersome. If you think [of] electric mobility and autonomous mobility as coming in 15 or 20 years, and you're building 20-year assets and you want them to have a useful life beyond that, then you kind of got to think about this stuff.

Would EVs take too long to wipe out emissions if Houston expands I-45?

If you said, 'Hey, I'm really concerned about air quality in Houston, all right, what am I going to do about that? I'm going to dedicate the left lane of I-45 from The Woodlands [north of Houston] to downtown as an EV-only lane,' you could do that tomorrow. And you would get a lot more EVs.

I wanted to ask you about the book "Superpower" by Russell Gold. Can you describe it?

He basically uses my story or my career in renewables to sort of track the growth of the industry over the last 20 years.

Do you charge your EV overnight?

Yes. It's charging your car when power's cheap.

Wind is blowing a lot at night in Texas.

I like the idea of traveling by wind.

What do you think of E&E News' 6,000-mile Electric Road Trip?

I think it's a fantastic idea.

Many people like to drive long distances and they want range of [400] or 500 miles. You probably don't need that in both your cars. While we figure out range and better battery life and so on, EVs as a second car may make a lot of sense for a lot of people.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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