This article originally appeared in Columbus Business First in 2015; we’ve updated it with updated comments from Tim Burnham.
How did you get into the energy industry? I entered the energy industry when I made a transition from working as an engineer in the manufacturing industry to working as an engineer for a consulting firm. The first consulting firm I joined after making this change performed work on the periphery of the power industry by moving fuels and other materials related to the generation of power. As the leader of our current firm, I have steadily increased our client and project mix to include more work in energy, including power generation, power and gas transmission, oil and gas processing and alternative fuel sources.
Update for 2017: We continue to see opportunity in energy, as companies and other entities move towards alternate energy sources, and continue to push for energy efficiency gains.
What is the biggest challenge for the energy industry in 2015? The lack of a comprehensive energy policy. The current administration’s “anything but coal” approach continues to confound the markets and influence them in a manner that is not sustainable. It is very concerning to look at all of the coal-fired generating capacity that will be taken offline this year without on-line capacity to replace it. One good heat wave or polar vortex could serve to illuminate the short-sighted approach here.
Update for 2017: The biggest challenge continues to be a lack of a comprehensive energy policy. Even with a new administration and their abandonment of the previous administration’s “war on coal,” there has not been any appreciable effort to formulate a comprehensive policy. Our country’s last two mild winters have cushioned the impact from closing of power plants, though our nation’s power infrastructure still has some catching up to do.
Do you think Ohio should have renewable energy and energy efficiency standards? Yes, because without standards, the market will have fewer reasons to develop the next generation of technologies to provide cleaner and more efficient energy. At the same time, there should be more thought put into these standards to make sure they are attainable at a reasonable cost and within a reasonable time frame. I haven’t talked personally to anyone who outright rejects the need for standards, but most agree they need to be applied with more regard to their impact on price and availability of energy.
Update for 2017: I continue to support renewable energy and, especially, energy efficiency standards. The results from ongoing energy efficiency improvements are significant with regard to reduction of base load, which directly results in cost savings and a reduced environmental impact from energy production activities.
Oil and gas development has slowed in Ohio amid falling oil prices. How has this affected your business? It has slowed our penetration of the market locally but has actually benefited us because we came to the game, by design, later than other firms. Our approach is based upon creating long-term relationships, and this slowdown has enabled us to catch up on developing these relationships during a period where there is more time available to do this. It also has relieved some of the pressure on resources for this and related markets, as the overheated job market for engineers and technical personnel has cooled as a result.
Update for 2017: Oil prices have not significantly recovered over the last two years, but the pace of efficiency gains in the oil and gas market has accelerated beyond even the most optimistic expectations. Producers in the oil and gas industry have improved their costs to the point where they can now drill and make a profit even at or near current prices, which has allowed domestic production to continue, albeit at a slower pace. One of the impacts of this continued domestic oil production is the production of “free” natural gas as a byproduct, which continues to drive a glut in the natural gas market. I see energy markets and raw materials markets continuing to take advantage of historically low gas prices by converting to natural gas as a fuel or feed stock, which has driven several of our markets.