It was Earth Day 2000 and the thirtieth anniversary of the Clean Air Act. In Washington, D.C., Sandy Reisky '84 walked the National Mall, which was lined with kiosks manned by nonprofit environmental groups and solar power companies. At one display, a single, massive wind turbine blade sparked a conversation between Reisky and a consultant. As this consultant introduced Reisky to several clean-energy companies, he made an observation that Reisky – now the CEO and founder of Apex Clean Energy Inc. – considers an "aha" moment in his career. Solar power, said the consultant, was predicted to be cost-competitive by 2010, but utility- scale wind energy was already cost-competitive with fossil fuels in states with a strong wind resource.
Shortly thereafter, Reisky began traversing the country to attend energy-focused conferences. By the year's end, Reisky had launched Greenlight Energy, a wind-energy company later acquired by BP Alternative Energy. In 2005, he founded his second company, Columbia Power Technologies, which commercializes a utility-scale wave power technology that was originally developed at Oregon State University. Two years later, he founded Axio Power, which focused on utility-scale solar energy development and was acquired by SunEdison in 2011. With many of the same team members and local investors from Greenlight and Axio Power, Reisky founded Apex Clean Energy in 2009.
An independent company that aggregates and commercializes wind and solar energy resources, Apex is one of the fastest- growing companies in the industry. Headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., it has expanded to more than 90 employees in five years.
Apex has grown through the initiation of new projects or the acquisition of energy projects started by other companies, and currently owns a portfolio of more than fifty development projects spread across the United States. These projects – the latest of which includes a 100 megawatt energy project in Illinois bought by the Swiss furniture retailer IKEA – represent more than 10,000 megawatts of wind and solar capacity (enough electricity to power approximately 2 million homes).
Collectively, Reisky's companies have developed more than $1 billion of wind and solar facilities in the United States.
In recognition of his exemplary leadership and vision, the Keystone Center (www.keystone.org), an organization that "facilitates the resolution of national policy conflicts," awarded Reisky its 2013 Leadership in Energy Award. He was also invited to speak at the past two Tom Tom Founders Festivals in Charlottesville. In addition, Governor Terry McAuliffe recently appointed him to the newly created Virginia Energy Council.
A Teacher's Inspiration
Several factors kindled Reisky's passion for clean energy. Among the most important was the seed of inspiration planted by a St. Anne's-Belfield School teacher.
Reisky grew up in Charlottesville and attended the School for kindergarten through twelfth grade. Recalling the impact of his eleventh-grade AP Biology teacher, Julie Russell, Reisky said: "I was at the point of evaluating what I would do after I graduated. Her indignation with the state of air quality made a big impression. Although I didn't connect it with clean energy at the time, her influence pointed me in that direction and stuck with me over the years."
After graduating from St. Anne's-Belfield School, Reisky went on to earn his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia, where he majored in finance and marketing at the McIntire School of Commerce and spent a summer interning in Munich, Germany. He worked five of the next fifteen years in Europe – three years in Munich, two in the Czech Republic. His other positions, both in the United States, included serving as CFO of a software company and as a financial analyst for Klöckner Capital Corporation, a German company based in Gordonsville, Va.
"I saw a lot of pollution during my stints in Eastern Europe, and I began connecting the dots," Reisky said. "I was very concerned, and that concern originated with Ms. Russell."
A Message with Energy
Reisky's passion for clean energy is obvious. Statistics on the cost and convenience advantages of installing rooftop solar panels and driving electric vehicles roll easily off his tongue. His message, he believes, "is one that is not being told in this country" and often obfuscated by "a lot of misinformation."
"When renewable energy resources are introduced at scale, utility rates are coming down," Reisky said, adding that wind or solar
energy are already cheaper means of powering a home than fossil fuels in some places. He believes the industry will soon experience a "cascading effect."
"Consumer choice will drive the markets and revolutionize the energy industry in a similar way to how Apple and iTunes revolutionized the music industry," Reisky postulated. "Just look at the facts: Electricity is four times cheaper than gasoline – that's why so many plug-in and electric cars are coming to market. Likewise, rooftop solar is cheaper than utility-sourced power in most states. Apex will be – and, indeed, already is – a participant in that national shift from conventional to clean energy."1
1 Statistics cited by Mr. Reisky come from multiple sources, including the American Wind Energy Association (www.awea.org), the NationalRenewable Energy Laboratory (www.nrel.gov) and the U.S. Department of Energy (www.fueleconomy.gov).
Photo credit: Jackson Smith 2014
Text by Jenny M. Abel
This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 issue of Perspectives magazine