Green energy panelists tell Dolan School students of great opportunities


A forum of representatives from Connecticut-based corporations concurred at a Fairfield University event that there is tremendous growth potential in the business of renewable energy and it's vital that such opportunities are pursued vigorously. The job market in the business of renewables is expanding and ripe with opportunity, they emphasized at the Charles F. Dolan School of Business-sponsored "Green Energy Night."

The drivers of the renewable energy market include the growing hunger for energy by the developing world, the rising cost of oil, climate change and the high concentrations of CO2 emissions in the world.

Martin Whittaker, director of Norwalk-based Mission Point Capital Partners, told students that 10 to 15 years ago the only jobs in "clean energy" or environmental finance involved either working for Greenpeace or being an environmentalist. "Not so now. It is a huge growth area - we need people who understand the underlying technologies and issues."

While some acknowledged there is a lot of money to be made in this area, the green industry also needs leaders with innovative ideas who can spearhead green business projects to help make the environment healthy and thwart pollution.

Fairfield University alumnus Kevin Walsh, managing director and leader, Renewable Energy, GE Energy Financial Services, helped organize the forum and sees a "sea change" in the desire for renewables. "We see a great shift in the need for energy in the world. People are craving the creature comforts of what we have."

Walsh added that there are great opportunities in investing in renewable energy, a vital move due to the world's use of too much oil and fossil fuels for energy. GE has invested in more than 25,000 miles of natural gas pipelines and put millions of dollars into wind, solar, biomass, hydro, geothermal and other renewable power projects. "We can shift the mix, and make less of an impact on the environment."

Dan Donovan, of Plainfield LLC, which is developing a biomass plant in Plainfield, Conn. said of green power plants, "This is a dynamic time and there are golden opportunities abounding. There is a new marketplace for energy and renewable projects."

Robert B. Wall, director of Market Initiatives, Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, gave a local perspective of renewable energy projects. He spoke of the Fund being involved in the installation of solar panels on GE and Bigelow Tea buildings that are generating significant amounts of energy.

Noting the solar panels on a Fairfield University student townhouse block and the combined heat and power plant (CHP) on campus, Wall credited the University for being part of the solution.

Frank Wolak, vice president of Business Development, Fuel Cell Energy, shared how jobs are waiting to be had in green industries. His company's fuel cell products generate electricity in unique ways.

Whittaker noted that "green jobs" are something young people with finance and business backgrounds should also consider. "Wall Street is paying attention. It's not just solar panels and wind turbines - opportunities extend through the economy."

Jerry M. Eyster, of GE Energy Financial Services, told students that they can help with the vast global task of addressing global warming by taking jobs that tackle reducing greenhouse gases.

A panel member cautioned that if the United States doesn't change its ways, the country will produce even higher concentrations of Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, a greenhouse gas. From 1990 to 1999, the U.S. accounted for 30% of the world"s CO2 emissions.

"We can't meet our energy needs like we've done in the past and live in a habitable world," Whittaker emphasized.

Walsh noted that there will be a lot of major investment in cars with alternative fuel sources. "We'll see a lot more of plug-ins and hybrids."

Norm Solomon, Ph.D., dean of the Dolan School, said business can play a vital role in maintaining a sustainable environment. "Sound business practices and sound environmental management can go hand in hand."

There can be happy endings. Walsh spoke about how the placing of wind turbines on family farmland is proving to be an asset and "a great story." "Family farmers don't have to sell their land to developers so this can make all the difference for some."

The forum was the idea of Dolan School Advisory Council member Maive Scully, chief financial officer, GE Money and a 1976 graduate of Fairfield University with a bachelor's degree in finance.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 23, 2008

Vol. 40, No. 253