INTERVIEWEE: Michael Osborne (MO)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: November 13, 2018
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Robin Johnson
SOURCE MEDIA: HD Video
Please note that the transcript includes numbers, which refer to the time codes for the interview. Also, please know that “misc.” refers to background noise or off-camera conversation that is unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s November 13, 2018 and we are with Michael Osborne, who has been involved in many aspects of renewable energy from the technology end to the business end to the policy area, as well as writing about issues related to energy and climate change. We’re looking forward to hearing about his life and work and his interests and perspectives. And with that, I just wanted to thank you for taking time to talk.
MO: Absolutely. Thank you for dropping by. It’s been fun so far.
DT: So far, so good. Well, we usually start these places in your early days and I was hoping that you might be able to tell me about your childhood, youth, and if there are any influences that might have triggered an interest in the outdoors and in energy and climate, all the things that you’ve been engaged with since then?
MO: Well, you asked me earlier about whether or not I was a musician. When I was, oh, about thirteen, I started my first rock ‘n roll band. And, of course, if you’re in the Texas Panhandle, you really need to come up with something to do and so starting a band was an obvious thing to do. And so I had a—I had a pretty good rock ‘n roll band. In fact, there’s a picture of it right up there in my youngest band. And then I got a really good band and we were sort of a regional band. And that took me through high school.
And, you know, there’s something that happens to you when you’ve been in a band. It gives you some confidence, you know, and it allows you to be able to—to stand in front of people and, you know, risk, you know, saying the wrong words or hitting the wrong note. It’s a valuable experience for development purposes. But the—the story that I tell that—when you asked about, you know, a unique event—is that when we set up the band and then we had about two hours to kill and so we went off and, believe it or not, we—we were pretty good kids and so we went to the 7-Eleven and—and got a—a glider, you know, a just a this—they were ten cent gliders.
They’re not a lot more than that now but I got this glider and we went down to the park and—and I took it and threw it into the wind, into the north wind, and I—the guy—my drummer at the time was a guy named Smisson Mulkey Goodlett III, so you know I’m telling the truth because I couldn’t make up a name like that. I threw it and then it went in and it did a loop to loop. And then I remember—I remember literally the glider touched a little flower, I mean, a little, tiny flower, but I saw it touch that flower.
And it—then it went up and stalled and then went down and picked up speed and went up and stalled and went down and picked up speed. And we watched it. And I said, “Smisson, look at this glider.” And it wasn’t peeling off to the right and it wasn’t peeling off to the left. And it just kept going. And we followed that glider all the way to the north side of town and it never came down. And so, at that time, Smisson and I, we said we’ll never tell anybody about this because it was—nobody would believe us anyway.
But it did kind of—when you asked for something that happens to you—it was something that happened to me that made me believe that, you know, anything was possible in the world. And obviously I became interested in wind and that’s wh—that’s one of the reasons why, you know, ultimately I put in the first wind park in Texas and it was the second big wind park in the United States when we first put it in. So that was something that affected me. After that, I went to, you know, I left—you know, I left Pampa. Born in Amarillo.
Went to the University of Texas and went into Engineering School to be an aerospace engineer. Went over to Business School and business and marketing and came out with sort of a marketing—marketing, you know, propensity, I would say. And straight out of college, after doing some political campaign work, I started picking up clients like Armadillo World Headquarters in Castle Creek and Mother Earth and straight accounts like the University Co-op. They were a good, you know, anchor account for me.
And we started this advertising agency and did a lot of rock ‘n roll. And I did that for about three or four years and then, I don’t know, maybe I—I’d lost a few friends to—to—to, you know, drug overdoses and stuff like that. And, at the time, I don’t know—I don’t know if you remember but there was—there was a comet that came through back in the say ’73-’74—Kohoutek. And I got—I got really excited about Kohoutek.
And I—and I—I studied it and I—the—you know, like I really, for some reason, I thought it was significant and it—I realized that it was significant but apparently it was just kind of significant for me because I like booked a—a—a—a—I booked a trip to El Paso to where I got on the train and went down to San Antonio and caught the train west and had figured out that I would get to—to Alpine just at the right time—three or four o’clock in the morning and I should be able to get out of the train and look up and see Kohoutek.
And, by golly, by—that’s exactly what happened and there it was. It wasn’t very big but Kohoutek, during that time in my life and I—I changed and decided that I didn’t want to be a—a—a—I di—I didn’t want to market albums or jeans or even concert tickets anymore. I—I didn’t want to spend my—my skills working on—on consumerism.
And—and, of course, virtually everybody was one version of a hippie back then or—or—or not. And—and so that’s when I started looking at—at the time, we called it alternative energy but very early on, you know, I—I began to call it renewable energy and that became really one of the driving—that’s been the driving force behind me now since really maybe 45 years.
DT: I think I’ve read that—that, you know, in addition to the—this theme of—of wind and renewable energy that—that there was a design or architect named Buckminster Fuller, who was also had a role in influencing your life. Is that—is that accurate?
Yeah, Bucky Fuller ruined my life pretty much. I read—the first book that I read from Bucky was Utopia or Oblivion and then I went backwards from there and read Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth and some of his other, you know, earlier works. Utopia or Oblivion was—was the one that got my attention. And—and in it Bucky basically said we—he didn’t call it renewable energy at the time.
He, you know, he said that all of our coal and all of our oil and all of those energy stocks are capital stocks and that in order—if we were to survive as a civilization, then we were going to have to move into an economy to where we were running on our what we—would call—what he called income energy, which was the wind and the solar and the other forms of renewable energy at the time. Yeah, but that was a very important book to me that really shaped the way I looked at—looked at the earth.
DT: So he—he looked, if I understand you, looked at fossil fuels as a sort of principle and you—you don’t want to eat into principle, you want to live off the—the income.
MO: That was his—that was his model. And—and—and actually I found that to be a successful model on the—a lot of my original talks when I was going around the—going around the state talking with various teacher groups and so forth trying to get people to—to understand how important it was. At—at the time, climate change, you know, really wasn’t an issue in the—in the seventies.
Climate change didn’t become a real issue until—ac—accept for the professionals—until ’81 I guess when Dan Rather came on the—the nightly news and said that the Reagan EPA had determined that—that global warming was occurring and that the Reagan EPA had actually recommended—and I repeat—the Reagan EPA had recommended that in order to survive, and this is in 1981 so this is almost forty years ago—in order to survive, the—the—we would have to abolish the use of coal—this is the Reagan Administration in the—the newly formed EPA—we had to abolish coal and we had to put about a 400 percent tax on the rest of carbon, both natural gas.
And if we would do that, then we would probably be able to—to manage the—the situation that we were facing, which was there was anthropogenic climate change being caused by humankind taking up these fixed resources as Bucky called them and—and—and attaching an oxygen or two oxygen molecules to it, creating carbon dioxide and then putting, you know, prodigious, enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into an atmosphere that was virtually free of it.
You know, and—I used to—I used to ask people when I would be talking with them, I would say all right, how many people in the room think that—what’s—what’s eighty percent of the atmosphere, you know. I say in—in—and they would go carbon dioxide. I’d go no. That’s—that’s not right. That’s closer to nitrogen. What’s—what’s sixteen percent of the atmosphere? I’d go well carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide and I go no, no, that’s—that’s oxygen. I said, well ho—you know, how many parts per million do you think carbon dioxide is of the atmosphere?
And by then, you know, all their votes were gone and there wasn’t really anyone there to say well it’s—used to be 270 parts per million which means it was one quarter of one 10,000th of a part. So, you know, the—the carbon dioxide blanket that—that—that warms us is—is a very, very, very thin blanket. And so by adding carbon dioxide as we do by—by oxidizing, you know, our capital fuels, then we are adding enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into an atmosphere that is relatively free of it.
And so, in effect, if you look at the ratios, you can see that where we used to have two blankets on us as we’ve gone from 300 and really—350 parts per million to 404. But, I mean, it—we were 270 at the beginning of the industrial revolution. We have gone from 270 to 440 . We’ve pretty much added a hundred and something parts per million and we’ve added a third blanket around the earth. And, as the most recent, you know, intergovernmental panel on climate change said, we—we have got to change and we have to—we really do have to do it in a hurry because guess what?
You know, the Reagan’s people and the EPA said we should start forty years ago and—and—and we still really haven’t done what we need to do, even though we’ve made great progress technologically, which I think needs—needs to be understood that only now are we able to do this at a scale that needs to be done that would be affordable.
DT: Well, you mentioned things that were happening forty years ago and I imagine that—that, at the time, maybe what was drawing a lot of people’s attention was the effects of the—the oil embargo. Is that—is that fair to say and—and that that was what was driving a lot of interest in renewable energy.
MO: Yeah, and—and, of course, the oil embargo, you know, was in the early seventies and it had to do with the Mid Eastern wars. And oil shot up from three dollars to, you know, thirty dollars, which was an enormous, you know, tenfold change. And so that is why the government and—got into what we called a—what they called at the time alternative energy. And I never liked the phrase alternative energy because it sounded like your—your stepson or a stepchild, you know.
And so, as an ad man, I wanted to move away from—from that term and move toward something more positive such as renewable energy.
DT: Well, along those lines, I understood that—that some of the first work that you did in the renewable or more sustainable kinds of energy was—was more in trying to reduce demand by building homes that were passively structured so that they didn’t use as much energy. Is that—is that right?
MO: Yeah, there was this, you know, back in the early days of solar, there were like two groups of people. There were the—the active solar people, which were the engineers and they were the ones that wanted to put, you know, fairly heavy, fairly ugly, solar panels on your roof that basically they were insulated and they had a black receiver on them. And they would run water through tubes, copper tubes, and heat up that water and then that water would go into your hot water heater and keep your gas flame in the hot water heater from having to work very hard, if at all.
And, you know, and that was, you know, twenty, thirty, forty, you know, bucks a month. So it was—if it—if the—if the panel was significantly affordable then, you know, that was—that was—that was okay but it certainly wasn’t high tech. And then the other kind of solar was what was called passive solar but it was really architectural solar. And that was, you know, that was the guys who, you know, who were more thoughtful about things and were more philosophic and they went I know we got to build all of our homes, you know, to where they have the right kind of eaves and the right kind of windows and they certainly need to be insulated.
And the—the homes themselves need to be giant machines that—that behave in balance with their environment. And that’s the—the—that was the kind of thing that I was interested in. So yeah, my initial work was building passive solar homes and, you know, most of them, in one way or another, were—were a little bit in the ground. The one that I personally like the best is—and the guy still lives in it and so that was ’76 so that’s 45 years ago.
Basically what I did is I took the design of—of a old 1880 Texas icehouse and what an icehouse would look like and I copied the designs and there and created a—a home that would stay relatively cool, you know, in our hot, torturous summers. We still put an air conditioner in it to dry the air out but it was a—a very small room air conditioner that, you know, made it livable I guess. He—he never has to air condition it so he’s lived in it. So I did that and I built a bunch of other homes, some of them totally in the ground, some of them halfway in the ground.
This one was about a third in the ground. I did all kinds of things to deal with the Texas heat. It was easy to deal with the Texas winter because there isn’t one. And so it was the Texas summer was the—was the challenge. And, you know, we fiddled around with earth air exchangers where we were running air through a—through a pipe that was three or four or five feet in the ground for as maybe as 200 yards so that all the air coming into the house would be cooled down by that earth/air exchanger.
And then we had to put rocks underneath them because there was condensation in there. And then, you know, after a while, the—those of us who were experimenting with that, you know, I mean, those of us who were—had actually done it became more worried about, you know, the [narrator note: “perhaps”] giving our clients legionnaire’s disease. And so, you know, I backed away from that. I only built one—one of those and another architect in town, Pliny Fisk, he and I did those together and they didn’t take off.
And that was—that’s part of the exciting thing about being in the renewable energy business kind of from day 0 and that is is that, you know, there’s plenty mistakes out there and plenty—there was plenty of learning to do. So yeah, I started in passive solar. I did do some active solar if the client wanted it, but I didn’t go—I didn’t go with the kind of active solar panel that would freeze up in the winter and—because even though we had freeze controls on them, the freeze controls would freeze and, you know, it was just—it was a really good way to get a phone call at 2:00 in the morn—in the morning from a—a retired general who wanted you to come fix the leak in his bedroom on a—on Christmas Eve, which I did.
And—and I swore off of those after that. So I was—did passive solar and I moved, as I went from passive solar then, I knew that the way to provide electricity was, you know, with wind. But I, you know, I did a lot of, you know, it’s hard to make a living in the renewable energy business. You know, I imported wood stoves, fancy, beautiful wood stoves. I, you know, one of my best days ever was I was selling these dopey little toilet dams.
They were made out of surgical steel and the—and stainless—stainless steel with surgical rubber and they would block, you know how some people would put bricks in their toilet to displace some of the water so that instead of having a five gallon flush, it was a four gallon flush. Well you could put these toilet dams in most toilets and get about two—two gallons of displacement out of it so that—and plus you were lifting the water up so you still had to have pressure. And so I could sell these things.
And I went to San Antonio at 5:00 in the morning one morning and met with the purchasing manager of La Quinta Inns. And, at the time, they were big but they weren’t as big as they are today. But they were big. And—and I made the presentation to him and the guy’s name was Jerry and—and I said s—so, you know, you want one of these, you know? And he said yeah, I’ll take one. And I said well, you know, I’ll just give you one, you know. And he says, oh no, I want one for every room, you know. And I went well, how many are those, you know?
And so it was about 10,000. And so that was like—I went like yeah, I can make some money doing this efficiency. But that was my first—La Quinta was—was my first big sale that where I actually made a little money. But I sold showerheads and whatever I could do to make money, I was, you know, 24 or 5 or 6 by that time. So that was energy efficiency business. And then in 1981 is when we installed the first big wind park. But I had to order those back in ’78 or ’79 to get them in, you know, because there was a waiting list to get them.
DT: Where were they coming from? Where were you buying them?
MO: Well there was a manufacturer who I discovered quite serendipitously—there was a manufacturer in—in—in Wichita Falls and a—a guy named Jay Carter and his dad, Jay Carter, Sr. and they were building a very unique wind turbine. Jay Carter, Sr. had been in the helicopter blade design for the—for the military. And they had a quite unique blade approach and it was two bladed and downwind. And the tower would tilt up so that you could lower the—lower the tower and—and—and get at it.
And, in fact, this—this—this little wind prospector device was actually in the wind turbine itself. It didn’t really—it ran an average but it didn’t really tell you too much about the wind. But this little, simple plastic device is what came—that’s where the—the—that’s where the industry was at that time. So I—I—I had been on—when Jimmy Carter passed the—the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1976. He—in that act, there was a thing called being a qualifying facility.
And in order to—in order to try to expand the use of, at the time, still alternative energy, then, as a qualifying facility, you could sell electricity back to a utility, even a—even a utility that was, you know, a monopoly. And I had been put on the—I had been put on the—the—the group, the state group appointed from the Public Utility Commission to be on this—I forgot what we called it—but we were taking the Public Regulatory Policy Act statute and turning it into Texas rules.
And so I was—I did that and actually got in the first language codified in the utility—in the—in the utility code that allowed someone who was a qualified facility and qualifying facilities were wind, solar, some other categories but it was most—mostly wind at that time. And so I knew those rules well—real well and I had actually helped craft them. And so after I crafted the rules, then I went out and installed, you know, what was the largest wind farm in Texas at the time, which is tiny, but it was—it was enough that be about 125 kw, which was an enormous amount plus we—we did two more wi—wi—about a half a mile away.
So we had 175 kw there of these new downwind wind turbines that were being manufactured by Jay Carter. And ultimately Jay Carter rode that wind curve—adoption curve—to where, at one time, he had upsized his 25 kw units to where they were 200 kw units. Well that was beginning to get somewhere. And—and he installed quite a few in California during the California wind rush, which started in about ’83 or ’84. And those turbines were unique.
However, what happened in the wind industry, in general, was that the downwind two blade unit was—fell—fell short in—in several different ways and the European three-blade upwind turbine that you see, that’s ubiquitous, that’s everywhere now, that’s the technology that won out.
DT: So Mr. Osborne, you mentioned a little bit about the sustainable energy—renewable energy field and it seems like, at this stage, a lot of it was experimental. There was a lot of trial and error. They weren’t sure if it was a down—down blade—down—I mean, downwind or upwind or two blades or three blades. And I was hoping that you could talk a little bit about that—that era and how people were not sure what the best solutions were and were trying different things.
MO: Well, I mean, and it wasn’t just, you know, gyro gear loose people doing it either. I mean, we had Alcoa that was developing, you know, their—their eggbeater design which was—really came out of—of NASA. And it was a—everyone though that it might have a great future. You know, a lot of money put into it. And, as a matter of fact, I was on a plane going to Los Angeles and the Alcoa guy was sitting next to me, quite by accident, and turned out that, during that trip, the governor of California was going to turn on this gigantic 500 kw which was big in those days.
Understand now the—the—the standard that we do today is 2 to 3 megawatts. That’s our standards and we’re being—beginning to standardize offshore at 5 megawatts. But this 500 kw—the Darrieus unit, which, like I say, looks like an eggbeater, you know, as they turned it on, they couldn’t turn it off and it literally exploded in front of all the press. And everybody in California and this guy was—that was his project. So yeah, a big company screwed up. We had gigantic companies that were doing very large version of two-blade units.
There was a—Hamilton—Hamilton Standard was doing one. It was a failure. At the time, I—someone asked me what I thought would be the wind farm standard and it’s—it’s—it’s rare but I think it’s fun for—for me to be, you know, considered conservative but I said I don’t know, maybe 75 to 100 kw, which was four times what I was flying at the time. I thought well it ought to be manageable and I can handle that with a good sized winch truck.
And the—the, you know, that’s what—that’s what we’ll do here in Texas, something that size, whereas really when it took off, we took off at about 600 kw. And then we went to 1000 and then the 1500. The General Electric turbine that became sort of a standard Ford tractor of the industry—it was at 1.5. And since then, we’ve drawn it all up to 2 to 2.2 megawatts. So they—they’ve really gotten large. They’re the biggest—the—the wind turbines that you see in Texas and ar—and in—in all the wind—wind areas today—those are the biggest wings on earth.
I mean, they’re bigger than any airplane of any kind. They’re, you know, they’re, you know, 60 and 70 meters, you know. They’re—they’re big—big blades. So yeah, it’s been fun being part of the industry even though there’s been some fairly spectacular mistakes. Part of staying in the industry is not being, you know, you know, one of those people that, you know, has to live through one of those terrible mistakes. I never had something terrible happen but it was exciting. It was a—imagine being in the oil business at the, you know, when Mr. Lucas is discovering his oil well out in East Texas.
I mean, they didn’t know what they were doing. And took us a while but we’ve matured in—in the last forty years a lot and we’re also producing a lot of energy now in the state of Texas. I mean, here in the city of Austin, you know, we’re—we’re over fifty percent renewables right now. The state’s over twenty percent. And that’s all within a relatively short amount of time and especially in terms of utility time because it’s, you know, that used to take ten, fifteen years to build a power plant. We can build a solar power plant out in West Texas now in a—in a year.
DT: Well and it—was it a—was it apparent from the very beginning that the future was going to be in—in scaling up these—this infrastructure, that—that the future wasn’t in distribut—distributed wind turbines, one for every house but rather it was going to be in, you know, these bigger and bigger wind turbines that would be utility scale that you could sell back through PURPA to the grid?
MO: No, it’s a—it wasn’t clear. In fact, it’s not even clear today. And, in fact, I think as technology develops, you know, what is appropriate for one time or one technology will like often happens as technology develops and things that were the state of the art at the time, you know, fall by the wayside by—by some new development. For example, I’m—you know, we originally thought that the market for—for wind turbines was that you would—you—as a manufacturer, you would create them and then you would sell them to farmers and ranchers and let them put them out.
I did a speech—I did the plenary speech at the National Convention in 1981 that—this is after I’d put my turbines in—and said no, that’s the wrong model. You don’t have an oil and gas guy come to you on your ranch and try to sell you some drilling equipment and say it—and—and talk you into drilling an oil well and producing oil and then selling the oil to somebody. That’s not what they’re doing. They’re coming on to your land and saying we’d like to lease your land. We’d like to produce the minerals that are here and we’ll pay you royalty.
And so that was the model that I presented at the—at the convention in Houston in 1981 that, you know, if we’re going to build a wind industry, then we—we need to go out, lease the land, pay the owners a royalty, m—make them rich, and—and by doing that, then we’ll have somebody who will lobby with us at the legislature so that we can—so we can do more of this. And so that—that was the model that took off instead of the onesies and twosies in Europe, you know, they actually do have the—a different model in Europe but the—but the model in the United States, you know, became the large wind farm model.
And that ultimately has taken over. But as I—as I tell the wi—the—the wind guys is that, you know, enjoy this because you’re probably only going to be able to pow—repower these up one more time, which would be like sixty years or so, because ultimately, you know, solar is going to take over completely. So to continue this—so on the solar side and—and—of course, you know, I was at au—Austin Energy for almost fourteen years and I was—I, you know, I was in charge of developing our renewable policy and getting us to 35 percent renewables.
Well there were a—a—a lot of people who, and understandably, wanted to put solar panels on every roof in—in Austin and that that—the distributed model was the right way to go. And philosophically, I couldn’t disagree with them at all. Economically, it just didn’t make sense yet because to put, even today, to put solar panels on your house, that basically is going to cost ten, eleven, twelve cents, which is very close to what retail is. So it does work now. You know, somebody who wants to do that, it does work.
But, through my work at the utility and through my work as chairman of the—of the Electric Utility Commission, we’re now up to 950 megawatts of utility scale solar that is coming in at a price, you know, around 3 ½ cents a kilowatt hour. Well that’s—that’s less—I mean, natural gas is at $4.00 today or 3.75. You can’t produce, you know, a kilowatt hour with natural gas right now that cheap. So wind at—at—wind is now below 3 cents a kilowatt hour. Solar is, you know, well below 4 cents a kilowatt hour, down to 3 ½.
So we’ve been able to achieve enormous amounts of cons—of—of penetration into the market by doing it at the utility scale. Now in 30 years, somewhere like that, yes, we will, you know, humankind hopefully won’t build anything that is not converting photons to electrons. Every brick, every sidewalk, every surface that sees the sun—there’s—we’re going to have paint on—photovoltaics where you lay down a mesh and spray something down, lay down another mesh, your P value to the—the—the other side of the—of the—of the—of—of the process.
And—and we used to—and—and we invented—Roger Duncan and I invented the term power paints. We will be putting power paints on everything. And it—and, at that point, you know, using solid state, you know, high tech really quantum physics, then everything is—is going to be converting photons from the sun to electrons and then conversely, our lights will be—our lights and our signs and everything else will be the reverse.
They’ll be the same—be the same chemistries that are taking—take—now taking—taking electrons and turning them into photons so that, you know, it won’t be long now until you can paint your entire ceiling and it will glow and you can turn it on or turn it down. So when we get to that level of sophistication on the solar side, then the wind—then the wind turbines are going to disappear. And, in fact, the—the whole concept of—of a power plant is going to disappear because we’ll have this seamless exchange of photons to electrons and electrons to—to—back to photons and that will—and then when we convert our transportation sector into all electric, then it will all be connected and there won’t be any pollution.
In fact, you—you won’t even see the power plant. You—you won’t even be aware that that existed. And then you’ll—we’ll have a completely—it’ll be just as different as the change was in the cities when we went from horses to horsepower and when we go, you know, from horsepower to, you know, a, you know, a—a sustainable solar world. And—and I think that’s going to happen fairly quickly, at least it better if we intend to survive the challenge of climate change. So that’s the long story is that—is that distributed versus centralized and stuff depends on the—on the—on your—on your ac—actual technological development and—and its time in the development stage.
DT: I guess you’re saying that there are real economies of scale, especially when you’re at the—the beginning of the development curve.
Right, you take those, you know, you know, you know, I’m a—I’m a—I’m a big believer in—in, you know, the—the 80/20 rule is that you can get 80 percent of something done with 20 percent of the effort on the front side of it. And—and just the opposite if you want to get the last 20 percent. That could take a lot of effort and it—and it’ll—it’ll make the overall cost go way up. And so it’s—it’s a—it’s the same thing here. It’s just that, you know, there’s the right time to do something and the right time to—to employ that particular philosophy because the idea of the distributed—distributed energy grid versus, you know, a utility-run—utility grid, that’s really a—a political idea.
That’s a philosophic idea. It’s like I don’t want some, you know, I—I want to produce my own electricity and that was, you know, that’s appealing to both the right and to the left. People want to be independent. But, at the same time, people need to work together if they want to accomplish things at the lowest cost.
DT: Well le—let’s go back, you know, if you don’t mind, to—to some of these very early stages of the development of wind and solar power. I think that—that, if I’ve got this right, that—that not only were you installing some of the first wind turbines but you were also leasing some of the first wind rights that were on the market. Is—is that right?
MO: Yeah, that’s—that’s really what I did do. I—first thing was is I took, you know, very fancy versions of these. By then, they were a lot more sophisticated and—and so we had to map where the winds were out in West Texas. And, quite honestly, we didn’t really know where it was. We knew that—we—we, you know, we knew to look at the trees and look at the—at the shrubbery and see if the—if the shrubs were blowing one particular direction. You could, you know, after a while, you know, being a wind man, which is what—what I was, you know, being a wind man was a—a little bit like, you know, finding water.
I would—I always looked in the landscape for where a good wind site would be and the—and was actually responsible for a lot of the wind sites in Texas today. But, at the beginning, we weren’t really sure. I mean, we knew it was windy in the Panhandle. You could—you could—you could site a wind park in the Panhandle just by, you know, you know, dropping a spear from a helicopter. I mean, there was just nothing—nothing to it.
But we weren’t sure at the very beginning if—if the mesas and the canyons and those sort of things were—would augment the wind enough to make a difference or—or, in my position, I thought that it would just make the wind more tumultuous and—and create a lot of extra little eddies within the wind currents themselves and would probably tear up your equipment. So, at the very beginning of some of the big wi—wind parks went on top of those mesas out in West Texas, one of the first ones was Southwest Mesa, which stood alone, had, you know, about a 400 foot rise and it was sharp.
And I didn’t lease those at the beginning and a—ult—ultimately we—we both proved to be right. The developer who did do Southwest Mesa, there was wind up there and—and now, 20 years later, that project’s been decommissioned because the wind tore the equipment up because it was—there was just too much activity in the wind after it had spun off the top. But they still had plenty of energy but it was tough on the equipment.
DT: So factor of not just the—the speed of the wind and the average speed and how high it is but is it all moving in the same direction or you’ve got eddies? Is that what you’re saying?
MO: Yeah. You know, I mean, you think about it. It’s like—and people, you know, you know, as a—as a original aerospace engineer, you—you think about the idea that—that, you know, on every plane that you ever took, you know, until about seven years ago, you know, on the tip of the wings was nothing. And now every plane that you ride has the little extra vertical ailerons on it. And you go like well, where—what, you know, why are we putting those on there? We’re putting those on there for—for energy efficiency.
That’s an energy efficiency device because they’re—because the tip of the wing—the tip of the wing makes a little—makes a little eddy and—and so if you do that, you take that eddy out and you make the plane fly forward more efficiently. And that—really that was invented only within the last fifteen years and deployed within the last seven.
DT: So you want sort of laminar flow. You don’t want turbulence.
MO: That’s right.
MO: Yeah. And remember the wind turbines—the wind turbines that we have right now, they’re not like the old air motors, you know, with the mini blades on them. You know, the old air motors, which my family sold in the Texas Panhandle, which was kind of another thing is that I felt like I was third—a third generation wind guy that, you know, the air motors—the wind hits a blade and it’s—it’s a—the term is that it’s a drag machine but basically the—the wind hits it and the blade goes the other way.
It’s just like holding up your hand and it makes you—makes your hand move when you stick it out of—in a car. But the—the more sophisticated turbines that are everywhere now are—are lift. And so they are—they are flying. That’s why we say flying. They’re—they’re flying in the wind and that’s how they work. And, you know, I—I can’t tell you how many inventors have come to me and went like oh, you know, I’ve got—I’ve—I’ve got the—I’ve got a better turb—I’ve invented a better turbine. And I—I go like—why?
You know, or—or they come up to me and I’ve invented a turbine that will—that will run in low wind speeds. And I go like—why? You know, that’s like, you know, power in the wind is a function of the cube of the velocity. And at just a little bit more velocity gives you a lot more power. And so, you know, ten times ten times ten, you know, is a thousand. And 16 times 16 times 16 is 4000. There’s four times—there’s four times more power, you know, in 50 percent more wind. So you’re looking for as much—much—much wind speed as possible, much and—because that gives you the maximum amount of power.
But, you know, part of—part of our conversation, you know, about watching all this develop is kind of like the metaphor that I shared about, you know, aviation is that, you know, people discover stuff. And you think of a aviation as a very mature industry but, in fact, the Wright Brothers, you know, they were flying goofy little funny—funky planes just a hundred years ago. We’ve been—we’ve been flying wind turbines of this kind now for really since about ’75. So it’s 45 years old and it—it will mature some too.
But, you know, back to my thesis a minute ago is that even with ma—wind maturing—I mean, this is what’s going to happen is that, you know, the wind’s going to get—the wind turbines are going to get bigger and I mean really big. They’re going to be offshore. They’re—they’re going to be giant, giant pieces of equipment offshore that would wreck, you know, a ship if you ran into it. And they’re going to provide a substantial amount of the earth’s power—a substantial amount. So that’s where wind power’s going to go.
I mean, we’ll still have some land, you know, it’ll be on the land but once we—once we’re able to build offshore efficiently and with—at a scale that we’re seeing right now and that’s—that’s in the 5 to 10 megawatt size, which is enormous. I mean, these are buildings—these—these are—these are things that are the size of the Empire State Building. They’re big. And so—and we’ll have enormous amounts of power coming from—from that kind of wind industry. And, believe me, it’ll be just like the oil and gas business.
In the—in the oil and gas business, in the early days, you had guys like, you know, Colonel Lucas, you know, wildcatting and—and, you know, punches holes in the ground and—and not knowing that he needs mud to keep it from blowing out and all the other stuff that they all learn. And now you have these gigantic rigs that are, you know, you know, many of them are going 3 miles deep, 4 miles deep. And with the new—with the new technology that has created, you know, horizontal drilling, you know, they may go down 3 miles and then they may go sideways for 2 or 3 miles.
Now that takes a lot of capital to do that. And then you compare that scale with the scale that we see offshore for oil and gas right now and it’s another quantum leap. And so we’ll see that in the wind business. We’ll see that, you know, it’ll get bigger and bigger and bigger and it, you know, you’re not going to be a little wildcatter in—in—in that business. It’s going to be a major energy company that’s doing that of some kind or another. Solar, on the other hand, I’ll go back to this. Solar, on the other hand will turn into a—a totally distributed source but probably in about twenty years.
DT: We were exploring this—this era in your life when you were leasing land for wind rights. And—and, like you say, this was a—a relatively new idea in new technology and I’m curious if you could play back in your mind some of those initial visits to landowners where you’d go up to a—a rancher or a farmer in the Panhandle or West Texas and you say, you have something valuable that—that I’d like to rent from you and you’ve probably never leased this sort of thing before. Now what kind of reactions were you getting? What—what sort of—they think you were a snake oil salesman or they were glad to take your money?
MO: Quite honestly, most of them were—were glad to take the money. When you mentioned, you know, I remember a presentation I made to a—the Wilsons for the Wilson Ranch outside on Highway 10 on the other side of the Pecos River. And there’s a lot of wind development there, a lot of it that I helped develop. But I remember the first day I walked into—his name is [Word] Wilson—and I walked into Wilson’s office and it was a nice office because they had a large oil and gas income. They had a lot of production on their ranch and they had several ranches.
And they had been—they’d—they’d been around in West Texas for a while. So you would characterize them as a, you know, as a—a family that was kind of a landed gentry kind of family. He was an intelligent man and—and I told him that, you know, at the time, you know, I thought that we could probably, on that land, I thought I could probably guarantee him about 5 or 600,000 dollars a year and that it would be renewable and that the machines might wear out but if they did, the—you know, we could probably just repower and do it another thirty years and that, you know, it’s pretty good income.
And—and—and then it was easy to—it was easy to deal with the fact that, you know, unlike the oil business, you know, you—you—you let an oil company come on your land and pump oil and put it in those tanks, you’re going to have these nasty oil trucks running up and down your roads on that ranch from now on. And the—the—the more oil there is, the more truck traffic you’re going to have. And—and you—plus you’ve got the guys—the pumpers—who are driving their white trucks around. You just got a lot of people on your ranch.
Well you put a big wind park up like this, number one, you know, we’re exporting the energy through the wires so we don’t have, you know, the—the big trucks, you know, moving energy. And the crews, you know, you do have crews that are servicing the—the—the wind turbines but—but a—a fairly large project, you know, takes a—a—a—a crew of about three trucks and they work all the time and they—they’re always doing maintenance just like aviation, you know, wind turbine—we don’t wait for the wind turbines to break.
We fix them on a schedule and we maintain them and that way they don’t break. We very much follow the—the procedures that were developed in the aviation industry. But it’s pretty light on the land and plus, if you’re a farmer, you can farm around it, you know, the projects I did in South Texas—the Los Vientos projects down there—the—the—the farmer goes right around a fairly small pad. It’s not, you know, much—much larger than just this room that we’re in. So he can—he can go around that.
And then, in most cases in West Texas, we accommodate the hunting lease which is one of the big, you know, that’s a big money maker in Texas and South Texas is the hunting lease. And yeah, we’ve got a few—we’ve gotten a few, you know, bullet holes in our blades but it hasn’t been a—a—a problem that, you know, has, you know, made it to where we have to say no hunting because that’s—that’s such a large—that’s such a large income source for most of those ranchers. But yeah, we—you know, most—certainly most ranchers and—and big farmers, you know, they’re pretty smart folks.
And if they think there’s a chance they can make some money and they don’t have to put any money into the deal, then they’re going to listen unless you just—unless they just don’t like you.
DT: So you didn’t see any culture clash between, you know, the—the oil and gas rigs that might have been there and—and then this newfangled, you know, alternative that—that, you know, they might have felt was, you know, is this a—a new countercultural wind source?
MO: No, I really didn’t. And, quite—and, quite honestly, if I came across somebody that I thought, you know, was going to be hard to work with, and there were a few that I walked away from, especially if I—I—I did have—I—I had—had a—a fellow who had inherited a big ranch but he lived in Fort Worth. And I wanted to lease so he had about 13,000 acres that I wanted to lease that I—that I was adding on to another 23 or 24,000 acres. So I—I kind of wanted his piece.
And I worked with him for the longest time and he was a—he was a real nice guy but he—because he wasn’t on his ranch, he didn’t—he—he—he—he was more of a businessman and I finally walked away from him and—and—and—and did it without him because he was difficult to work with. He was a nice guy. But most of the ranchers that I dealt with and I—I actually never dealt with a—a manager or a business manager or someone who was running the ranch for somebody else. I was always fortunate enough to be dealing with—with the man who making the decisions.
And—and that’s who, I mean, it—th—that was better than even the son. In fact, I would avoid the sons, you know, in fact, you know. You g—you got to deal with the dad in—on a ranch. But I, you know, I didn’t—I mean, I—I dressed the part, you know. I—I didn’t have long hair and I didn’t, you know, wear lipstick or anything weird. And I—I had my little outfit. I had a little khaki outfit and I had my little black hat.
And, you know, I looked like something between a service station guy and a—and a—and a—I was trying to do a—kind of blend of a service sta—your friendly Texaco service dealer and a—a—somebody in the—in the guard. You know, I looked a little militaristic too, you know. And that seemed to look good. I mean, I didn’t go in a suit obviously. And I—and most land men, whether they’re oil land men or wind land men, most of them kind of take on a—a dress that’s a little unique, a little different because—because basically you’re dealing with people, you know, even an oil land man, you know, you’re—you’re dealing with people who have other things to do.
They probably have money already and you just kind of got to pester them in a really nice, effective way, in order to get through all of their filters. And then almost all of them are quite delightful to deal with.
DT: Well maybe we can talk a little bit about the business end of—of leasing these rights if you feel like I can be privy to these stories. I imagine it was difficult to know what wind was worth when turbines were still evolving. Some of the transmission lines and distribution lines hadn’t been built yet. I mean, it was a early stage of the industry. How did you figure out what you could offer?
MO: We offered a royalty, you know, like in the oil and gas business, you know, you know, in the old days it was 1/8 and then it moved to, you know, 3/8 or, I mean, 3/16 and then, you know, and ult—and ultimately, you know, a quarter, you know, 4/16. We kind of had to make that up. We had to make up the bonus money because it was very much the way I crafted the first contracts. They were very much like oil and gas deals to where there was bonus money to sign and then there was the equivalent of delay rentals where we’d pay them every year whether we developed the property or not, which was like a delay rental in the oil and gas business.
And the, of course, there was—once we went into production, there was a royalty number. And we would—we would actually—we knew what we were going to sell the product for mo—more or less and so we gave them, you know, a percent that, you know, gave them a number. Once they multiplied it all out, that looked like a pretty good number. Since then, the actual market that you sell into because we’ve moved—in the beginning—in the beginning, you know, I got paid an amount called avoided cost, which was—which was set forth in the 76 Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act.
And it was called—it was called avoided cost and I was supposed to get paid the same amount that the utility would spend building a new plant. And so we knew what that number was because they would file that number at the Public Utility Commission in order to get a Certification of Convenience, in order to actually build a plant. So we knew what their new number was and so they had to pay us that or they were—they were in violation of the law. Now, since then, that law, you know, the original Jimmy Carter law is now—is now gone.
There’s cer—certain parts of it left but most of it is gone and now we have a free market here in Texas where what you get paid for your electric production in a wind turbine or a solar or gas turbine or a nuclear power plant, that all based on a 15 minute number that changes on a daily base and a seasonal basis and that number can be—actually be negative or it can be incredibly high. I’ve seen electric rates for wholesale producers be as low as, you know, negative 20 dollars a megawatt hour or worse, which most people wouldn’t run unless you’re a wind power producer and you’re going to get 28 dollars from the feds for the—on—on your—on your credit.
You might run for that 800—8 dollars. I’ve seen—so I’ve seen lows in the negatives and I’ve seen highs—the statutory high in Texas is 9000 dollars a megawatt hour. And every now and then we hit that in the summer.
DT: So if—if—yeah, so maybe if I can get sort of the circumstances. So say it’s—it’s August 1st and it’s 3:00 in the afternoon. Everybody’s air conditioner is flipping on. That might be an instance where you—you have a really high price for the wind power that’s being sold on the market.
MO: Yeah, you can—and everybody would—everybody would make some money but all—also to make it more complicated, we—we—this is probably a little more in the weeds than most people will want to listen to. But we also have a thing called LMP, which is Lo—Local Mar—Marginal Pricing, which means the price not only differs on the time of day, it differs on where you’re inputting the electricity in. So if you’re inputting the electricity where a bunch of other electricity is coming in, then the price will drop.
And the price will go up if you’ve got cities where they’re trying to use the electricity. So you got a different price there. And so it makes it much more difficult to put together a deal now because you have to have somebody underwrite—underwrite you that can—that—that—that knows what all those ups and downs are going to average out to. And once you kind of get a feel for that, then it looks complicated but, in fact, it averages out at a certain price that is fairly predictable.
DT: This helps me a lot. I—thank you for explaining that. We’ve talked a fair amount about wind power, both producing it and leasing it and selling it. I was hoping that you could talk a little bit about your early days in—in the solar panel—distributive solar panel business because I understand you were a rep for Solar Tex for panels that might operate gates and other [overlapping conversation].
Yeah, we did—I was the state—I was the state distributor for Solarex after—in the—in the early eighties and through—through the mid-eighties. And really we sold, you know, some panels that—that were as small as these. This is—this is a sun power panel that’s—some of the panels would be about this big and those would go to, like you said, to operate gates. That was a big market. The railroads needed lots of them since I was a wholesaler. So we sold lots to railroads. There—there were some sold to pedestrian wa—walkways close to schools because it was expensive to bring in electricity and put a transformer in there.
It’d be cheaper to put solar in there. So, in the very, very early days of photovoltaics, the markets were very nichey. They were niche markets. And, of course, you know, they were markets for, you know, people who needed electricity on the North Pole and things like that and super remote markets. But inside the city, there was a half dozen pretty good markets that were fairly competitive. But at—but, at that time, as I said earlier, we’re at—we’re at 3 cents a kilowatt hour or something like that.
When I—when—when—when—when I was doing distributive solar at that level, it was—it was—we didn’t price it by the kilowatt hour. We just priced it by the kw. But it—but it would have been 30 to 50 cents a kilowatt hour, something in that range—probably closer to 50 on most of them. But, you know, that’s not unusual. I mean, if you—I mean, if you look at the price of—of the electricity that comes off of your battery for your cellphone, the amount that you’re paying for that cellphone electricity is enormous, you know, from—based on the cost of the battery because you’re not using very much electricity, of course.
So it, once again, it depends on the use. So you can’t really apply a bulk power price, you know, to—to when you need it. And you, you know, you need it for your cellphone. At the time, we needed it for the running the—the—the fence chargers. I—I did a whole bunch of them for the LCRA and—actually for the City of Austin where we did water quality monitoring where basically we had a—a solar panel about this big and that would keep a battery charged so we could monitor flood stage. We could—we’d also would pump a little water.
It was—it was—it was—we would pump a little water into a—a—a—literally just a little carousel of—of—of little vertical, almost like flower pot holders and just pump the water in there. And then the guy would come and get the whole carousel out and see what the water quality level had been like on that creek and very, you know, very unsophisticated but it, you know, at least he was there all the time instead of sending someone down because that’s what we do. I mean, even today, environmentalists just go and pull some water out and go take it to the—to their lab or to the Health Department to take a look at it.
So yeah, so I did all those little—little markets and we did that through the—I had a—a—a large facility out in—in Elgin, Texas and we sold quite a few photovoltaics that way. But I didn’t really do but—but a few homes because, at the time, it was really quite expensive and—and I knew I could, you know, I was trying to, you know, even though I was still concerned about passive solar design and saving energy and that stuff, you know, by then, I was convinced that the way that we were going to—to penetrate, you know, the electric market in a—in—in a big way was that we were going to have to get the utilities involved and so—to kind of make the connection here.
So—so after, you know, I developed sites and did development for wind and then, by that time, I had started with a California company called Zond, which was a good company. And then it got bought out by Enron and then ultimately Enron, because they were the smartest guys in the room, got bought out by AEP and—at least my projects did—and then the Enron—but the original Zond turbine was bought out by General Electric and that became the workhorse for the industry was the turbine that we developed in that process, which was the General—turned into the General Electric turbine.
But it was originally the Zond turbine and it was, you know, it was well designed and a good turbine but it was basically designed by a European and it was—it—it was basically the turbine that had been developed in Northern Europe.
DT: Let—let me see if I can understand just this one passage you were talking about before with this—this—the solar panels. And I think you were explaining that—that these panels at the time were very expensive per kilowatt hour. And—and—and so they—they would only work in certain niches and I—I guess the niches of, you know, gates and railroad signals and maybe buoys and sort of like that sort of thing. They—they—they worked because it was more expensive to bring in utility power on poles and lines. Is that—is that true?
MO: Yeah, but the big cost—it was the poles and the lines but the big cost was the transformer. The transformer would be more money than the panel.
DT: And—and I—I gather that these panels were usually coupled with a battery to try to offset the—
MO: Almost always.
DT: —problem with [inaudible].
MO: Almost always, yeah. Some battery, yeah. Some—depending on the—on the need, either a larger battery or just a small battery. But yeah, there’s almost always a battery. The unique thing about a—about—the unique thing about a photovoltaic is that—is that because it’s a quantum—because it’s a quantum effect, is that, you know, a little bit of light on this particular—this particular panel is about probably .45 volts. So I would need like roughly 20 of them to get to, you know, 10 volts and 26 of them to get to, you know, 14 volts or whatever.
It will always produce the same amount of voltage under this light or if I put it in the sun and have five times more light, the voltage will remain the same. What changes is the current. And that’s what makes photovoltaics so unique is that the amount of current changes with the amount of flux or the amount of light that’s coming in but the voltage stays the same. So all of your electronics are—are pretty simple.
In fact, back in the old days, instead of putting a regulator—putting a, you know, spending an extra 90 dollars on a regulator, we’d just oversize the battery and let the battery regulate the panel because the panel wasn’t strong enough to overwhelm the battery and burn it or—or warm it up.
DT: So this is how you avoided the cost of the transformer is what you’re saying?
MO: Well, the—this was a good de—de—de—in this particular case, I was talking about the regulator which you, you know, on a big system, you—you need a regulator to control the current if it’s more than your—if your battery’s beginning to get full, then you’re going to have to shunt off that current somewhere. It probably is—back in the old days, we just had, you know, we’d just shunt—shunt off that extra current, you know, as heat. You know, we’d just warm up the coil. But, once again, the—these were—this—this is the way we were doing things 40 years ago.
I mean, I really—I really feel like a—I ne—I never thought I’d be looking back at 40 and 50 years but it’s—it’s what’s happens. And it’s been fun to be part of an industry that has grown and matured and we’ve had our fits and starts but, you know, we’re beginning to take a—a, you know, there—there’s more wind power in Texas now than there is in nuclear power. And but I know people don’t realize that but there is. And it’s quite an accomplishment in less than 30 years.
DT: You’ve talked about your—your role in wind and solar and both I guess buying, building, selling, leasing. I understand that you also did some inventing and that you were granted a patent for a hemispheric moving focus power plant. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MO: That’s so great that yeah. Yeah, because I was looking for—this was about 20 years ago. I went well if, you know, we’ve—I knew we were going to get to the price point with wind but these—but silicon was still real expensive. And so, you know, how are we going to get to the price point with solar es—especially photovoltaic solar because silicon was expensive. And so, you know, one way to do it would be to take this and put two mirrors on each side of it, right, and then have it track the sun and that would put more sun on it.
And the mirrors supposedly would be cheaper than the silicon. There was a famous solar company that did that back in the Obama days and went broke and everybody loved to make fun of them. But th—but they were based on the—on the idea that silicon was very expensive. So I—I—I looked at the—there was a—a radio telescope in—in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and—and the radio telescope was based on a fixed reflector. It’s fixed. And then the receiver would move to the point of focus that you wanted to look at it in the stars.
And—and I thought well that’s kind of interesting. And so I came up with a fixed reflector which doesn’t move because one of the problems with the original concept like this which was done in Crosbyton, Texas by a—by an aerospace firm. They—they—they—they had a f—they had a fixed reflector too and they were trying to—to do—to deal with it but it was tilted.
And so the—the fixed rece—the receiver moved but so what I—what I did is that I invented a—the solar—the solar algorithm of—of the Arecibo radio telescope, which had a fixed, hemispheric reflector in the ground and then the—the receiver would move across it in such a way using photovoltaics and—and thus be able to create a lot of reflective area at a price less than these and get to a price point which, at the time, was about five cents a kilowatt hour. I thought if we can get to five cents a kilowatt hour in solar, that’s the holy grail.
And I had priced the whole thing out. I built a—a 1/6 scale project out at my lab, out in Elgin and tested it all out and then did all the electronics and invented the scope that would follow the sun and all the other—all the other things. And actually I think, you know, it could still have promise and, you know, at some time in the future but, you know. You know, something happened that nobody, at the time, thought would happen and—and—and I discovered it later when I was doing some work at the utility.
But the reason this stuff is so expensive is—is that silicon of the grade that you need to make solar panels was—was selling for—for about 300 dollars a kilogram out of—and most of it, interestingly enough, was coming out of Pasadena, Texas. There—that was the refinery where almost all of solar grade silicon was coming out. And then the Chinese decided not to play along with that about 15 years ago—it was just about 15 years ago and they dropped the—and they built three such plants and dropped the price of silicon to 16 dollars instead of 300 and something dollars.
So—so everything changed. So all of a sudden, this stuff wasn’t expensive anymore and you didn’t need to go to all of these convolutions to get more solar flux onto your cell because, you know, at 16 dollars, that’s cheaper than my mirror. That’s cheaper than the reflective surface. Now all we’ve got to do is just get these out there and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. And that’s the reason we’re down to 3 to 3 ½ cents a kilowatt hour right now, which was below the goal that I had set for my invention.
But, yes, I have the patent for the fixed reflector moving focus solar—solar plant. And it wasn’t just a—a plant. It was—it included—since they were fixed reflectors in the ground, they also collected water. And so a very, very large—and that’s why I think there’s some future for this invention—is that they collected enormous amounts of water even in a desert where you only got 6 to 10 inches of rain, I would have a lot of water collected because they basically were all water collection systems.
And I would need the water to clean the bowls because, at night, the same thing—the collector system that collected the solar would then like a little snail would polish the—the dishes up and—and—with the condensation And also we used the water because part of the—part of the invention was that we—we took the water and turned it into hydrogen and oxygen and then recombined it later in a—in a—in a generator.
DT: Fuel cells?
MO: No, I—it wasn’t a fuel cell even though it could have been.
DT: Well it—it sounds like you’ve had experience in wind power and solar power and in every aspect from, you know, developing the technology to selling it, leasing it, and—and I understand that you put some of these skills to work in forming a—a group of like-minded people—this Texas Renewable Energy Industry’s Association. Can you talk about that experience?
MO: Yeah, I have another prop here but—we created a Trade Association. Early on, in the late 80s, I think ’86, and Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association and this was our little lobbying packet. We’d give away these little pins to all the lobbyists, I mean, to all the legislators. I guess it’s 35 years old now—86—24—it’s—it’s maybe a little older than that. And so yeah, I founded that with two other people. And—and Russell Smith who was the executive director—he was our executive director for 30 something years, he and I are now the only two living co-founders.
The—the other co-founder was a guy named Warren Cole, who was a sweet, little mechanical engineer that actually had some hot water solar panels that were sold in Austin and throughout the state and a lot of people had them. And but that technology was really one of the first ones to become obsolete because nobody sells hot water solar panels anymore. I mean, they’re like—it’s—actually we’re going to try to find some to put in the museum someday because they’re fairly unique. But, yeah, so we started Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association.
That group is still around. They still have the statewide convention. And every now and then they let me come to talk to them at lunch. And—it’s—it’s really a—a privilege to be able to—to see, you know, an organization continue on without, you know, my direct involvement. They—they give me a free pass to the convention, you know. So if a—that’s my reward.
DT: Well and what was the goal behind the association? What were you hoping to achieve?
MO: Well I wonder if it’s here. Yeah, well, you know, establish effective relationships with state, national governments, increase public awareness of the here and now contribution renewables. Promote the use of renewables. Keep members informed of the latest government policies. Encourage high business and professional ethics. Provide cooperation with other organizations and contribute to an understanding of the many applications of renewable energy. So it was a c—501(c)(6) and we did, you know, we lobbied.
We—we’d lobby the legislature. And, you know, at the beginning, you know, even with all the Democrats back in those days, you know, they—they treated us nicely because it—it certainly—it certainly was not in vogue to be rude to environmentalists and conservationists. You know, they would at least nod their head and say they—it was nice to visit and come back, you know, even if they didn’t think about you at all from then on. But it was a fairly easy job to—to get in the door. It was much more difficult to get them to take you ser—seriously.
So but TREIA gave us—you know, we had a good membership, you know, 3, 400 companies and businesses. And we were able to—to kind of put renewables on the—on the map. We—there—we had also kind of spun off some other organizations. We spun off the—the—the—the Wind Coalition to specifically lobby on wind issues. And but we tried to keep everybody under the same—under the same tent. And—and—and—and, to some degree, we were pretty successful at that.
There is now a separate solar industry’s group that, you know, is just for the—the—the large utility solar plant group that kind of spun off. But TREIA still represents most of the industry and, you know, have, you know, I—I, you know, it’s—it’s—I would say, you know, all in all, it’s been quite successful. Say 20 percent of our energy from the whole state comes from renewables and we’re headed towards oh 30 percent here in the next 5 years. Here in Austin, in the next 5 years, we’ll be 65 percent renewable.
And add our other non-carbonate resources, we’ll be—every kilowatt hour here in Austin, 85 percent of them are going to be non-carbon.
DT: And—and, you know, if you roll back the time to the 1990s, was—was TREIA involved in lobbying for the renewable energy portfolio standards?
DT: Can you tell about that—that role?
DT: And your—your stake in that as well?
MO: Yeah, I had—we had various people carry a—a portfolio—a portfolio bill at one time or another, you know, senators and legislators. But we really made progress on that when the utility industry itself was deregulated. And it was through the Deregulation Bill, which originally remember was called the Enron Bill. But the—because, you know, Enron wanted to get in and—and be the smartest guys in the room once again.
But, in the Deregulation Bill, in fact, another lobbyist, Tom Smith, of Public Citizen—he and I were getting on a plane to go to New Orleans for some climate change group that we were putting together, some political group that we were putting and—and we got a call from—from Steve Wolens who was—who was chairing a House Committee on that and he just said, “I’ve—I’ve decided I’m going to add a—I’m going to add a portfolio requirement for renewables in the Dereg Bill and—and, you know, and I need some language in like ten minutes.
And so we gave him some language and it ended up in there. And that’s how we got our first goal of—I think—I think the first goal was—I think it was like 3 percent. It was pretty low. But then it went to 10 and then, since then, we’ve surpassed, you know, that goal by—we’ve doubled the 10 percent goal and gone to 20.
DT: Well was—was there the idea of some sort of a tradeoff that—that the utilities would get the right to split up the production, distribution, and retail portions of the business and maybe be—have a cometive—competitive market but, in exchange, they would have to provide renewable [overlapping conversation] sources? Is that how it was?
MO: I think maybe with some folks. But I think in Wolens’ mind, as well in—in—in—as well in my mind, was what we were doing was that, at the time that we were going with this deregulation bill, the owners of nuclear power plants were getting ready to get a thing called “stranded investments”, air quotes, “stranded investments”. And because “nuclear” would never be profitable under dereg because natural gas would be so cheap and they wouldn’t be able to run their plants, which turned out to be totally untrue. They have run those plants.
But they—th—th—there were billions and billions of dollars that were given to the owners of nuclear power plants in the dereg bill. It was a huge transfer of money from the rate payers. So under the understanding that there would be stranded investment, then we argued that there would also be, you know, at the time, we were under a planning process called Integrated Resource Planning, IRP, and that—so there was stranded policy, there was stranded regulatory policy. You know, if everything is just, you know, who’s got the cheapest product then there is—there—there—there is stranded regulatory policy in this.
And so that’s the argument that we made that—that we’re losing the IRP process. It’s going to get stranded so we’re going to have to set some goals or we—we won’t do the smart thing or the—the—the—the thing that will reduce pollution, which would come through regulation. So there was like stranded regulation cost. And that, to me, is what Wolens bit on because he was kind of a braniac and he liked that kind of thinking.
DT: Well so—so, if I’m following you, you’re saying that the legislature felt that there needed to be a diverse array of sources of energy and that because these nuclear power plants were being kept alive, subsidized, that you needed to offset that with the renewables? Is that what you’re saying?
I—I think that Wolens—I think Wolens, you know, felt like he needed to put something in that bill that would make him sleep at night a little better.
DT: For political reasons or conscious reasons? Okay.
MO: Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve ever told that story or not.
DT: So I think that—that in—in more recent years, you have been really active in the City of Austin. And both as a staff member at Austin Energy but also as the Utility Commission member. And—and I was hoping that you could explain how you used those different hats that you were wearing to try to move energy towards this really aggressive, progressive renewable stance?
MO: Yeah, well, you know, as the Texas legislature became more and more red, we had—we actually, you know, got a lot done at the Texas legislature, you know, even through Governor Perry. That’s when we got the CREZ line, so transmission line and we were still getting favorable tax policy. And—and, at the time, Republicans had not turned into, you know, you know, pro carbon, anti-environmental types. But, in the last 20—so in the last 20-25 years, then it became clear to me that, you know, the place to work was at the local level where we still had, I mean, I still have, you know, I have 9 Democrats, you know, on the City Council.
And so, you know, you can get something done. So it was a—it was a conscious decision of mine to begin to work at another level of government. I was also working at the—not the state level but at the federal level and, to some degree, at the global level because I was involved in climate change negotiations in Paris. And so—but—but here—here in Texas, working at state level was tough territory. So, for the last 16-17 years, I—I went to work for Austin Energy because they’re a progressive utility and we did some of the most progressive utility stuff there is.
You know, we did the—you know, we had a—we had the most successful green pricing program in the United States. We had the most progressive green building program, which is passive solar building in the United states. Most successful. You know, we had—we had one of the most progressive solar credits for distributed solar for photovoltaics, you know, on your roof. You know, we had, you know, a—one of the best energy efficiency programs, not only for—for our homes but also for businesses in commercial and—and in industry.
So, in fact, we—we—we set out—one of the first things we did was to set out and build a conservation power plant, which we did. We built about an 8—you know, and now we’re at 900. So we—we built that first 600 megawatt power plant out of conservation. So we didn’t have to build a real power plant. So, you know, it was a true dream so to speak of—of—to be able to work with people like Roger Duncan and Carl Rabago and—we had a—we had a pretty good—we were kind of like the Yankees there for a while on the—on—on the executive team.
We had some really good people at Austin Energy. And there’s some good people there now. But, you know, the team I was with was a really good team and we got a lot done. And, like I said, that’s one of the reasons today we’re—we’re—we’re at 50—almost 50 percent renewable energy and moving toward 65 percent. So I did—I did that by being a staffer. And then I moved over to what I say north of the river and had, you know, City Council appointed me ultimately to be chair of the Generation Task Force.
And—and I—as—as chair, then I took us from 35 percent renewable energy to 55 percent renewable energy, and then—which—which, you know, in the, you know, th—the—th—this—the senior people at Austin Energy were saying because they weren’t quite as green as—as—as we were—were—were saying that that was going to cost billions of dollars. It was in the Statesman and—and, of course, it didn’t cost billions of dollars. But they wanted to build a new gas plant at the time.
And so it—we had to go through a lot of positioning, so to speak—public positioning—in order to ki—to—to get that gas plant put on the back burner. And I don’t think we’ll ever build that new gas plant. And that’s not going to be necessary. So I—I chaired that and then came back and became chairman of the—the—at about the same time was elected chairman of the Electric Utility Commission. And that’s where I was in—put in a position to actually implement the policy because, as you pointed out earlier, I’m—I’m—I like doing the policy work but I also like making sure that there’s someone around to implement the policy.
And that’s what we’ve done and we’re on our way to doing that now. And I’m still—I still serve on the Electric Utility Commission but we have a different chair now. I stepped down as chair but—a couple of years ago now. But I still serve on the—on the commission and I serve on the Sustainable—Sustainability Commission for the city, which is a new commission that was created by Council Member Pool which has representatives from each commission—planning, you know, environmental, you know, Electric Utility Commission, Resource Management Commission—all those various—we have about 16 members, which is kind of an, you know, at—at first, nobody knew what we were doing there.
But in the—in the last couple of years, the Sustainability Commission is beginning to kind of get their arms around, you know, the work that we’ve got. And so I’m—I’m looking forward to, you know, achieving some goals there. And—and you go what do I want to achieve there? Well that’s a—you—going through that commission, you know, is where I think I can begin to get the large scale adoption of electric transportation because that’s where I can generate the resolutions in order to get them passed at the council level.
DT: Well, you mentioned that and I think that—that—that earlier you had told me that there was—and this was probably off—off camera—that you’d recently helped start something called the Texas Electric Transportation Resource Alliance to try to further adopt [overlapping conversation].
Right, that’s a state level group. That’s a state level group. And we sp—formally started in April. We had our first meeting and it was a—it was a good success. And now we’re up to about 160 members. And, you know, I’ve already submitted significant—sig—significant testimony to the TCEQ because, you know, there was 200 something million dollars’ worth of—of Volkswagen settlement monies coming to Texas.
DT: From diesel.
MO: Well for their—yeah, for their shenanigans. And so we—some—so Texas is getting some money to be administered through TCEQ. And—and we’re, you know, we’re making, you know, recommendations to the agency that’s going to administer these funds of where we want the money to go. And we want, you know, at least thirty million of that to go into, you know, electric car charging on the—fast chargers—you know, on the interstates and the connecting highways and everything so that there’s—you can actually own an electric car and travel in Texas.
And then we have a national group called Plug In America which is working with the oil—with the Volkswagen settlement monies and all the other state groups to begin to—to—to make this national and so that—so if you’re in an electric car, you can go anywhere you want to and you don’t have to own a Tesla because right now if you want to go someplace in an electric car, you got to have a Tesla because Tesla built the—bit—built your fueling infrastructure for you. You know, they, you know, don’t want to digress but people don’t realize when you buy a Tesla, you—you buy a vehicle that, you know, the fuel is free when you travel.
I mean, the—there’s no charge for it. That’s why some—some people are buying Teslas for cab companies right now because the—they probably didn’t think that through as good as they should have. But—so back to Txetra. Yeah, we started this group. We—we’re doing the—we’re having a policy meeting this Friday on tax policy. We got to come up with a tax policy that deals with the fact that electric cars right now don’t pay for the—don’t pay for the roads because road taxes are—are—are brought in through the—the—the—the cost of fuel.
And so we’ve got to figure out, you know, how we pay our fair share. There’s quite a few issues and people just don’t realize, I mean, if—if—if—if we’re going to deal with climate change, we—we—we’ve got to get rid of the combustion car. I mean, we—we’ve taken care of the, I mean, you know, on generation side, I’ve got 3 cent wind and I’ve got 3 ½ cent solar, which is totally affordable. And we’ve got to have electric cars that run on—on—on zero carbon generation and then we’ll be—we’ll begin to actually take care of the problem and transition the society without, you know, all of the economic car—carnage that some would have you believe it will take in order to get to where we need to get to.
And so this is sort of the last part of the—last part of the triad in terms of a—of a gestalt energy policy that, you know, meets the challenges of climate change.
DT: What is this triad that you’re discussing?
MO: Well the triad is the—the—the—the automobile over here, the—the—the utility or the generators up here and then the home of the factory over here. And, in order to have a—an integrated power system, then, you know, energy’s got to be produced up here as it is now but it also can be produced at the house in the—in the form of distributed and it can also be produced or stored and—and put back into the grid, you know, from the—from the car. Actually I think the car’s over here and this is the load over here.
And each one of those parts of that triad send energy back and forth to each other so that the car can serve as a backup for renewables and—and the house can feed, you know, the car or the ho—or the car can feed the house and the house, you know, is—is interfaced with the utility. And you have this gestalt energy system that’s more efficient and it’s what I call the—the uni—the—the unified energy system and reduces a lot of waste. And—I mean, you think about it and when—when the poor University of Texas plays football over there next door to me over here, you know, there are 100,000 people there and there’re, you know, somewhere around 30,000 vehicles.
And every one of those vehicles, while it’s parked, you know, in the parking lot over there, or any parking lot for that matter, is stranded in the—in the—in a sense that they—they’ve got gasoline in them and they’ve got a, you know, combustion engi—engines in them and it’s like they’re not doing anything for the society at all except, you know, putting oil on the, you know, leaking oil. And if those were all electric cars and—and we’d thought about it, you know, those cars could be powering the stadium, for example.
So the—we need to have a more integrated approach to energy and that’s the direction that we’ll be going. I mean, the—it’s the last part, as I said, it’s the last part of what I consider to be, you know, the—the—moving towards a true—a zero carbon economy.
DT: And I guess part of—part of that move towards a zero carbon economy is to adopt these new renewable sources of energy but I—I guess it’s also incumbent to—to somehow retire the old carbon sources. And I was curious if you could talk about the—the effort by the City of Austin to retire its role in the Fayette Power Project?
MO: Well, yeah. Part of our generation plan the—which I chaired—is that we’re going to be retiring the—the—the old Decker Gas Plant, which is a—a gas steam plant. That’s going to be retired here in the next two to three years. So that’s—that’s—that’s—that’s happening. In fact, we’re already approving just at the Electric Utility Commission, we’re already approving monies in order to retire it or to replace the substation—we’re—we’re already approving shutdown measures.
DT: You’re decommissioning it?
MO: Yeah, through—we’re approving those right now. The—the coal plant is—it’s—it’s pushed back a little bit but it’s right at 23. So we are scheduled to close Fayette in 2023, 2024. But, you know, the politics of that are—are difficult. With the Decker Power Plant, it’s totally under our control. We own it. The city owns it. We can close it as long as—as long as ERCOT will let us, you know. The coal plant, of course, we’re partners with LCRA on two of the units and then LCRA has a third unit that they own by themselves.
So we’re sort of a stepsister minor partner in that deal. And it’s really LCRA’s deal. They—they kind of bully poor little City of Austin around in that plant. And we need to get a divorce. Right now we own two plants together. They need to take a plant and we need to take a plant and then we—we’d be able to shut it down just like we’re shutting down Decker once we do that. I’m not privy to those negotiations but that’s the direction we’re going. I believe we’re on schedule to have that thing, at least our portion of it, closed down by 2023.
LCRA may choose to run it but, you know, the truth is is that there are, you know, in terms of policy, you know, the last piece of policy that we don’t have in this state or this country, for that matter, we do have it in California and—and on some other—some of the other states on the West Coast. But, you know, we have to inia—we have to initiate a carbon tax. And the carbon tax needs to be neutral, in terms of its effects on—on lower income people. But…
DT: So Mr. Osborne, we—we’ve been talking about your role in renewable energy in Texas and—and nationally and globally over the last 40-45 years. And it—it seems that—that the—the rationale, at least the public discussion about renewable energy is—has evolved over that time from maybe one that was involved with—with more geopolitics or—or maybe air pollution and now it seems to be more about climate change. And—and I was hoping that you could sort of bring us through that long arc.
MO: Right. Well it—it is true. It’s like, you know, like I had said be—you know, at the beginning with the Bucky Fuller book where, you know, he talked about, you know, the—our oil and gas resources were, you know, our, you know, our capital resources and that renewables, you know, were—was our income and that we needed to learn to live on our income. So that was sort of the philosophical stance that I had early on. A lot of folks, whether on the left or on the right, you know, embraced alternative energy because they, you know, had fears of a—of another oil embargo which was actually, you know, was a pretty big deal in 1973 especially when prices went from 3 dollars to 30.
That was a—that was a huge change. So, you know, and that a brought—brought about, you know, efficiency measures and all that. And that’s all good stuff, you know, in—in any event. But you’re right, you know. The, you know, the Dan Rather announcement in ’81 was, you know, that was the first time that, you know, a few of us became aware that we had another big issue here and it wasn’t just, you know, an issue of our Freon going up in the air.
It was the issue of, you know, the fact that the, you know, an—an intrinsic part of—of our energy system was based on adding carbon dioxide to a blanket of carbon dioxide that was very thin but, at the same time, very potent at changing our temperatures and changing the—the climate on earth. And it—from—from ’81 to remember the big announcements in congress in ’88 about climate change, you know. We’ve had the international group that met for the first time in ’93, you know. The last climate change meeting I went to was the one in 2015 in Paris.
And so I’ve watched—I’ve watched the scientists and I’ve watched the scientists go from—the early scientists are saying there’s no doubt this is what’s happening to, you know, a large group of scientists in the various academies of science because it’s, you know, when—when people say oh, you know, they’re not sure about it and I go like well actually every—every academy of science of every industrialized nation, you know, understands this to be the case that—that we have a problem with carbon dioxide going into our atmosphere and changing the—the nature of the atmosphere to where it—it holds heat in and it’s very scientific and it’s very provable and that’s what’s happening.
And—and we now know that it’s—it’s not cows who are pooping. It’s not, you know, that—that—we’re the ones that are doing it. We’re putting large amounts of carbon. So—so yes, you’re—you’re right. The issue has gone from one of—with some people, we don’t want to be beholden to foreign countries to an issue of actual survival as a civilization in a period of time that is beyond most people’s lives. And that makes it difficult, you know, to—to implement policy. But yeah, renewables now are less expensive, they’re less polluting.
They are available domestically and, you know, and not only are they less polluting but they—they don’t add to the greenhouse effect and—and to climate change. So it’s a fa—it’s a fairly easy decision for someone who is not blinded by, you know, so—just some kind of political bias, you know, to make. And I—and I—I feel confident, you know, that—I think it was Winston Churchill who said the Americans will generally make the right, you know, decision once they’ve exhausted every other alternative.
And I believe, especially with the most recent election, that we’re—we’ve sort of seen the height of the red tide and that the—these—we’re going to—we’re going to see some sanity come back into the public—into the public discourse and it’s not a minute too late.
DT: This—this may be a naïve question but I hope you’ll bear with me. Why do you think climate change got politicized and became such a bête noire for the—for the right. That, you know, that there was this sort of attack on coal and it was some—some sort of politically driven drive?
MO: It’s a—that’s a—actually quite a good question. When we were developing—when we were developing our lobbying groups and our caucuses in the—in—in D.C.—I say we—the—the—the—the renewable energy groups and stuff, we—we—we knew that renewables could tend to fall off to the left. You know, it could co—it could turn into a democratic position. And we were—we were very careful about making sure that if we added someone on the left, we added someone to the—on the right so that we had a balanced caucus.
That’s actually going on now in congress again, to where if you want to add somebody to the left, you got to add somebody on the right, so that you have a balanced caucus in dealing with the issue. In terms of my own speculation, you think about it, we had won the political victory twelve years ago, I mean, with—with Al Gore’s movies and just the general presentation of the international pi—international IPCC—International Panel on Climate Change.
You know, they—they had made it pretty clear that if you paid attention to the science, every major scientific organization on earth has, you know, has endorsed the policy. So why did it get politicized? You know, I mean, I think Obama, because he became—Obama became a polarizing—a very polarizing figure in this country. And before Obama, there were Republicans who were talking about climate change.
By—by the time we had finished eight years of Obama, the Republican Party, which I must add is the only political party on earth that has this position—decided that climate change was not an issue that—that—that would require, not only our—our best attention, but our smartest attention because it was clearly a danger, you know, to the—to the culture and the society and your children and your children’s children. So, you know, when Obama got elected, those of us who supported him were—were delighted when he got reelected but it was naïve of us to not imagine, you know, a—a recoil to his election in the next election.
And I—it—it—if there’s anything, it’s just the residue of—of—of, you know, a long history in the United States of dealing, you know, with issues having to do with race.
DT: It’s interesting. So it’s—it’s—it’s the attachment of Obama to climate change policies that maybe have nothing to do with carbon and everything to do with the color of skin.
MO: You take—you take Obama and then you add Hillary to it and you, you know, now you’ve got the perfect mixture of—of misogyny and racism and then you turn it into a—into a scientific policy, which is really just a—a—a remarkable thing for an intelligent Republican to do. I—I was a Republican when I was a young man. I was a political operative. I helped run several gubernatorial campaigns. And all the Republicans I knew back then were smart people who were just as much fun as Democrats.
And this position that they have taken right now, I think is a—is a position that—that they themselves will realize is a position that they need to backtrack on and—and heal that or they’re going to be in danger of seriously harming the prospects of the party in the future.
DT: Well—well speaking of the future, as we—we draw to the close of this interview, we usually ask narrators what sort of advice they might give to a future generation based on all the experience you’ve had dealing with renewable energy and climate and—and other conservation issues? What—what would you say?
MO: Oh, I think, I mean, given—given that I can tell story after story after story of one—one little victory or one little loss and one little victory and one little loss, maybe two victories, I’m—I—I’m a big believer in perseverance and if you want to get something done, it’s like the old—the old phrase, you know, how do you eat an elephant and the answer is, you know, one bite at a time. And to just—for the youth to, you know, you know, stay with it. You know, don’t—don’t get disappointed because you lose one election because just find some more people and win the next one.
And just continue to, you know, like water on a rock, you know, just continue to work on it and things will change. I have a—and—and—you know, if you consider, you know, everything that you do that you know is the right thing to do to, you know, in—in—it may just be a pebble or just a little grain of rice but—but, you know, there’s a—there’s a, you know, a scale of, you know, a balance scale and it’s like this, you know, and you keep putting a little pebble or a little grain of rice over here. You just do it.
You do it every day and you do it every week and you do it every year. And then one—one day it goes errrrrrr like that and it changes and everything changes. And it does it all at once because the—because the balance has changed. And so I would, you know, I tell, especially young kids, you know, I spent my whole life, you know, one pebble at a time and now I’m up to 50-60 percent renewables in Austin and 20 percent in the state and, you know, 10 or 12 percent in the country and we’ve got a long way to go but we’re, you know, once that—once that pendulum changes, once that scale changes, then it’ll be just like in 1905 when you look at the pictures of Congress Avenue and there’s not a single car on Congress.
And then you look in 1920 and there’s not a single horse left. And sometimes things change and they change real fast. Twenty years ago, nobody had ever even heard of a smart phone. Now if you don’t have one, you know, you live in the jungle somewhere. Things change and sometimes they change—most of the time they change really, really slowly because there’s so much momentum on the other side. But when that—when the balance changes, then it changes fast and you just keep working until it does.
DT: So there may be some tipping point where, all of a sudden, a gradual change becomes immediate and—and really dramatic.
MO: Right. Yeah. It’s not the hockey stick idea. It’s a different idea. It’s like more the cliff. You know, that—that it’s the change of balance. It’s the tipping point. And we’re going to see it and we’re going to see it. It just is going to take everybody’s continued effort to get there. One vote at a time. One pebble at a time.
DT: Well, let me ask one last question and you may have other things to add which would be great, but closing question is often to ask narrators well, so is there a favorite spot in the out of doors that you enjoy, that gives you solace or some comfort that reminds you of why you work on these things that involve the natural world?
MO: That’s a great question. That’s what people always say when they don’t have an immediate answer. A favorite single space—no. I would say no. I do like to Zen out wherever it is I am. And it can be anywhere. And—because I—I find—I find the world in the—nature itself in animals and chipmunks and, I mean, it’s like a—before you guys came out, you know, the—one of the little pecans fell off the tree and it hit the concrete and it broke into a lot of pieces and, all of a sudden, a bunch of little birds were taking up the little pieces, you know, and the co—I’ve gone like, you know, that’s—that’s so beautiful.
So no, I, you know, I can be pretty much anywhere. However, that said, and, you know, I have a home in the mountains in Mexico which is very, very high literally and figuratively and—and—and I can get inspired there. It’s 9,000 feet. It’s close to a—an old mountain that’s considered sacred by the Huichol Indians. And it’s pretty—pretty easy to get inspired there.
DT: Okay. Well thank you. Is there anything you’d like to add?
MO: No, thanks. This has been fun and I—I think—I appreciate your—as I—as I began to, you know, run off the path, you—you brought me back every time. That was great. Thanks.
DT: Well it’s been really interesting and valuable. Thank you so much.
MO: Yeah, thank you.
[End of Interview with Michael Osborne – November 13, 2018]