Interview with Dan Misch, Founder & Co-Director of the Veterans Advanced Energy Project (VAEP)
Catherine: I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green, and today I have with me Dan Misch. Welcome Dan!
Dan: Thank you!
Catherine: Dan is joining us from Chicago, and he is the founder and Co-Director of Veterans Advanced Energy Project. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Dan, and your background.
Dan: Sure, I am a Senior Manager at Invenergy, in the asset management group, working on build transfer projects that are currently under construction. I’ve been there since January this year, so relatively new. I came to that job from the Federal government, where I worked as a Project Manager at National Laboratories working on major investments by the federal government in infrastructure, and major scientific equipment. All of which is sort of building on my experience as a Navy Lieutenant and Nuclear Engineer in the submarine service.
Catherine: Interesting, can you tell us a little bit about what Vets Energy Project does?
Dan: Yeah, I started the Vets Energy Project in 2016. It was part of a non-profit competition with a non-partisan non-profit called the Atlantic Council, they were giving away $20,000 for new ideas to get military veterans engaged in international policy and to specifically elevate the voices of post 9-11 veterans. So, I had been to a training, through the Department of Energy with the Foreign Service Institute, that educates Foriegn Service Officers on energy issues before they go out all over the world and have to deal with energy issues that they might not know that much about. It was a week-long crash course in energy markets, the fundamentals of diplomacy and policy, and it was really eye opening for me in that even though I had already made the transition out of the Navy and nuclear and into clean technology in National Laboratories, to see everything from the big picture, as a global view. I thought that would be really interesting to educate other military veterans that might not know as much about it, that are getting out of the service, to give them a sense of how careers in energy could really help them continue service to country and make them feel good about the career choices that they were making. We did a pilot of the program, it was a seminar with like 45 people, here in Chicago, in December so it was very cold, I’m glad people came! It was very successful. We were able to get a number of partners like the State Department and the University of Illinois at Chicago, Invenergy where I am currently employed, all signed on. We did it again in 2018. Then last year, the Atlantic Council came back and was very interested in what we were doing. They took it from the seminar classroom concept and made it into a summit with over 200 people in attendance. This year we had to go virtual, like everybody else! There were some advantages to that, we were able to get more diverse speakers that we may not have otherwise been able to get all in the same room. We also launched a fellowship, a year-long leadership development program for a highly competitive selective group of future military veteran leaders in the energy industry that we can dedicate a little more time and resources to their development.
Catherine: That sounds great. I want to talk a bit about why it was created. Can you go into some background in how you decided to start this Veterans Advanced Energy Project?
Dan: Yeah, my transition from the military to civilian career was not easy. I had not really put a whole lot of thought into what I was going to do after I left the military. I probably thought I was going to go work in the nuclear energy industry as a nuclear engineer, a lot of my friends and colleagues had gone to do the same. I was interviewing with places like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or Exelon, but then, it was 2012, so Climate Change was at the forefront of the presidential debates at that time. I didn’t understand so much about it, and especially about the connection with national security. I happened to be at the right place at the right time because getting the job that I had at the National Laboratories in Argonne, here in Chicago, really opened my eyes. First hand, the investments that we are making into the next generation of clean energy technology that we are going to need to mitigate the worst effects of Climate Change. That mission alignment, that sense of purpose and belonging, really made me feel good about what I was doing. I might not have liked my job every day but I loved what I did. I have plenty of friends and know other veterans who get out in a similar situation where they just don’t know what to do, maybe they work in a job, I think you can see that veterans are more likely to change jobs in their first 1 or 2 years than their civilian counterparts, helping those veterans connect with their mission is really important.
Catherine: I think that’s so right, isn’t it? It’s just about mission, having a mission-based job is so important if you’re used to having that in the military.
Dan: That’s exactly right. For one reason or another, the people that join the military either started with some intrinsic desire to serve the country, or I guarantee that by the time they got out that they left with that feeling, and want to continue to serve.
Catherine: I want to talk a little bit about some of the notable accomplishments that your organization has had so far.
Dan: Yeah, the Vets Energy Week that we just had in August of this year, we were very happy to be joined by notable speakers like Senator Tammy Duckworth, Pete Buttigieg, and Governor Rick Perry, former Secretary of Energy. Like I said, being in a virtual setting allows you to get more people than you might have normally been able to have everyone in Chicago. We had 600 people register and 300 downloads of the app with 10,000 views across the week. We had 20 sessions with expert panels, with film screenings, networking sessions (virtual Zooms). All things considered, we are very happy with the results and it’s setting us up next year. I don’t know if it will be a fully virtual event like it was now, but certainly it’s nice knowing that we’re going to be able to integrate some of those options, so that people who can’t travel, or dedicate a whole day or number of days to the event, can still participate in some way.
Catherine: Yeah, absolutely. Big fan of Mayor Pete! How has the clean energy industry been supportive? What companies have been the most supportive and in what ways?
Dan: Invenergy has been the founding sponsor since 2017, when I had the first pilot. So they have been a sponsor each year that we’ve held the event, really helping to afford the costs of the event, like bringing speakers in or being able to offer travel scholarships for veterans that might not otherwise be able to come. Clean energy companies are very interested in working with military veterans because of the skill sets that they bring, and engaging in this dialogue in a unique way. I think they see the value of what we’re trying to do, which is not just a regular job fair but trying to create excitement and passion about what we do, to be able to make connections in an organic way, that I think most often leads to career decision and opportunities that open doors for people in need.
Catherine: I want to talk about the U.S. Military, why do you think the U.S. Military has been, and continues to be, such a large proponent of clean energy?
Dan: There’s two reasons, they are ideas that have been around for a long time but really came to the forefront in the early 2000s. The first you could look at as ‘less fuel more fight’: the fact that in forward deployed situations, our troops are so dependent on the energy that fuels the mission. So, if you have fuel conveys, say in the Middle East, that is a vulnerability to the entire operation, whereas deployable clean energy solutions like solar panels and batteries can help create microgrids that are more self-sustaining, especially for longer term operations. The second is more at the macro level, the fact that Climate Change in particular is going to be a threat multiplier. Changing the mission of our military, as we see rising global temperatures, increasing sea water levels, resulting in mass migrations, resource shortages, more severe weather events, our military is going to need to be able to respond both to the natural disasters in a humanitarian position but then also to the increased international conflicts between countries that are happening. So it is something that the military has been preparing for now for years, you could say decades, to adapt themselves and prepare for those realities.
Catherine: What unique role does nuclear energy play in decarbonizing our industry system, do you think?
Dan: I often say that when I left the nuclear Navy that I started learning about Climate Change and I wasn’t so sure how I felt about nuclear anymore, as a clean solution. I have come full circle, I am a big proponent of nuclear. It’s 20% of our total energy production, now, and I do not think that there is any reasonable reason to expect that wind and solar are going to completely replace that. I certainly think that we’d be better off to see more of that. Where I am, in Illinois, nuclear energy provides over 50% of our in-state energy production. You can look at part of the reason is that nuclear power is actually invented at the University of Chicago and it’s the reason why Argonne National Lab is where it is. So Argonne started as the nuclear lab, a lot of that work has moved out to Idaho, but I think that the legacy lives on in the state of Illinois.
Catherine: Interesting. I did not know that. You learn something new everyday. A little bit of trivia there! For us clean energy buffs.
Dan: It wasn’t for me because I had worked on a nuclear submarine where the technology was invented at Argonne. So it was the full circle moment.
Catherine: Yeah, I like that. My final question is how can people or clean energy companies support the Veterans Advanced Energy Project?
Dan: We’re always taking new partners and sponsors. Partners to help us spread the word, specifically related to our events that are going to be happening throughout the country, and for the fellowship applications that are going to open next May. And then sponsors to help us fund the events that we put on. We are housed within the Atlantic Council of Energy Center, but really a self-sustaining organization where the intent here is that we bring on these partners to help us put on the events that are supporting the military veterans.
Catherine: That’s great! Well thanks so much for talking to us today. I appreciate all the good work that you’re doing.
Dan: Yeah, Catherine, thank you very much for the invitation.