A profile of an ambitious and persistent entrepreneur and a revealing look at the complex issues involved in the process of transitioning to renewable energy sources.
Gold (The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World, 2014), a Gerald Loeb Award–winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal, chronicles the efforts of Michael Skelly, an infrastructure builder, to create an interstate transmission superhighway to bring direct high-voltage electrical power from the balkanized world of solar and wind farms to cities thousands of miles away. Unlike many present-day journalists, the author keeps himself mostly out of the story, with Skelly and his colleagues and adversaries front and center. Before getting into the story of Clean Line Energy, Skelly’s company, Gold shows him working in the late-1990s for a tiny, aggressive company in the rapidly growing wind industry in Houston, developing wind farms. In 2007, when the firm had become a major wind power producer and was bought and remodeled by Goldman Sachs, Skelly quit the wind business and ran for Congress. As a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, he lost. “From despondency comes inspiration,” according to Skelly, and it was then that he conceived of Clean Line Energy. The long process of trying to turn his concept into a reality is the subject of the second half of the book. The narrative is sometimes mazelike, full of sharply depicted players, corporate strategies, funding problems, struggles against long-existing utilities determined not to lose control of the grid, politicians and their personal preferences, misconceptions by lawmakers, the parochial interests of individual states, court cases, outdated statutes, and confused or fearful citizens. Ultimately, despite the complexity, Gold shows clearly the myriad daunting problems facing an entrepreneur in the renewable energy business.
The author tells Skelly’s story well, presenting him as an enterprising and resourceful trailblazer.