Building the New Energy Future With MBEP
Robert Hymes – 09/20/21

MYNT CEO Derek Hansen and Kate Roberts, President & CEO of Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP), sat down over video chat to talk about climate change solution strategies being employed by both organizations.

Both Kate and Derek are focused on how climate change is affecting the Monterey Bay region and taking synergistic actions to address this complex issue.

Read their discussion below, edited for brevity.


KATE: Hey, there, I'm Kate Roberts, president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. I’m really happy to be here today to talk about climate change, because at MBEP, we realized that climate change has no boundaries. What affects our environment, affects our economy, and affects our health and our community's well being. This is why it made sense two years ago to expand what we were initially doing in transportation into a broader initiative around climate change.

DEREK: We recently joined MBEP because we started to realize that all of what you guys were doing, how powerful it was for our area and across many kinds of platforms and segments. We fell in love with your climate initiative program because it's right up our alley.

KATE: Our climate initiative supports our region's commitment to addressing climate change and advancing economic and climate resilient communities. As we do with each of our key initiatives, we raise awareness and education, share examples of the work that's already being done, deepen intersectorial capacity and engagement, and increase the deployment of innovative and practical solutions.

DEREK: So tell a little bit more, if you don't mind, about what that initiative means for you guys and how it works.

The whole idea of creating more community resilience is really what climate change is all about for us.

KATE: We realize that climate change touches everything. I mean our housing initiative, where we build housing with wildfires in mind, and making sure that we're making better land use decisions. The whole idea of creating more community resilience is really what climate change is all about for us.

DEREK: What I love about what you guys are doing is it falls so in alignment with my original intention for our company. We had this kind of a big idea, which was to decarbonize mid-market commercial and industrial real estate, which is one of the most underserved segments in the market, period. You've got Class A campuses, municipalities, and government buildings, all being widely taken care of from a standpoint of driving to a zero net energy future or decarbonized future. You've got a lot of information going out to homeowners about how to do that.

But nobody was talking to the mid-market when we started the company — which is the vast majority of buildings. And so we saw that as an opportunity to create the biggest change possible.

We think that Central California, the Monterey Bay region specifically, represents one of the most forward-thinking areas in the country around climate change and the new energy future, which is a decentralized, distributed, and democratized energy network which very few people are wrapping their heads around.

We figured that we would rather be proof of concept for a broader change than try to be the change everywhere. That's just not a realistic thing. When you're talking about something as nuanced and complex and sophisticated as what we're doing here, it goes right in alignment with what you guys are saying as well.

KATE: I love it. Maybe you could just give an example of a project that was really exciting, and that really had an impact.

AI-based HVAC system improves performance on Graniterock’s open warehose style HQ

DEREK: We engaged with Granite Rock, one of the biggest employers in our area and one of the biggest companies in the country. We engaged with them where they had a real deep desire to prove what's possible around industrial real estate and a company like them would normally not necessarily be looking at renewable energy.

And what happened is we first looked at their corporate headquarters and said, “How do we get them to pretty much a full electric offset?” Well, we had to go through and do a bunch of energy efficiency work within their building while they were up and running. This was a project that got delivered while staff was in the building. They did not want to shut down. They wanted to keep people working. And then [we installed] a lot of solar to offset the rest.

In parallel, we were also developing a very large scale solar farm on an old chunk of disturbed land that was part of their quarry. It's where they take all of the leftover dirt from their mining of granite and put it out in a field and let it just be a brownfield.

So we put in around a five and a half megawatt solar system out there that offsets a huge chunk of their quarry’s power consumption, which is more than you would imagine.

Well, at the same time, all these jobs were created around these projects where we were hiring people to work on these projects from our local communities, and normally those jobs didn't exist.

So I think people need to remember that currently it does take some capital to be able to deliver projects like this. But it is having a benefit, a lower socioeconomic spectrum for sure. And I think it's important for people to remember that it always starts with somebody with money having to go start the process and then it kind of trickles down. We hope. Right. And so that's a big part of it for us. It's very important for us to recognize that.

Derek & Kate discuss San Benito Health Foundation — another MYNT project in the region

KATE: So I just love that. You know MBEP is all about this triple bottom line; equity, economy, and environment. And so I love the fact that you brought in this equity piece. And I'm wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit more. There's a lot of talk about how solar is just for rich people. So maybe you could riff on that a little bit. What's your perspective from MYNT? How do we address the equity piece going forward?

DEREK: Yeah, that's a big deal. That's a big question. I'm going to try to frame this in as simple a way as I can. We say it differently. We say people, planet, profit. That's the old kind of idiom for the energy space. And you know, we made it part of our ethos here as a company that we won't do a project that doesn't have the same net positive benefit across all three platforms.

One of the things we use here is, “If it doesn't make dollars, it doesn't make sense.” Meaning, nobody's putting money in if they're not getting returns out of it. Typically, that's why we aim our project at real estate ownership. They like to invest in real estate. So it's an easier kind of sell for them.

So we won't do the work unless the tenant’s actually getting a significant amount of savings. So it has to be the right kind of owner to agree to that project. However, even though we're delivering a tremendous amount of savings to the tenant, the owner still has a massive yield. I mean, it's way better than anything else you're going to find in the market. So there's that part of it.

The second part of it for us is that ultimately, can we make the facility run better? That those people working, are they in a healthier environment? Are they happier there? Do they feel better about their work, knowing that they're in a deeply sustainable building?

San Benito Health Foundation team + MYNT rep at the Grid Resilince project conclusion

DEREK: So we see that future coming. That's what we're calling “The New Energy Future.” It’s literally our tagline for it, which sounds simple enough. But it's actually pretty unique and takes a lot of different stakeholders and engagement involvement to deliver, including commercial real estate owners.

But a lot of us don't quite realize that there's more than enough solar going on the grid in the middle of the day right now. And it's actually not being utilized because solar kind of goes through this duck curve of production in the middle of the day. So the only way around that is energy storage. We believe the actual new energy future is around energy storage and that more and more folks will be able to put a shipping container size battery in the back parking lot of their building and not have to have the acres of solar to do what we need done.

Battery Storage: 5 days of Zero Carbon Resiliency at San Benito Health Foundation facility

KATE: Well, we're so proud and excited to have you as an MBEP member and so excited about the future of what's going to be happening with MYNT systems. And we're looking forward to being on that journey with you and helping you wherever we can as a member and supporting this excellent work that you're doing and making our region stronger. So thank you.

DEREK: I've been talking too much. I would like to hear a little bit more from you on MBEP. In general where you see things going for you guys. Like what's the new, big problem that you guys are solving?

KATE: We started in 2015. We started out very small with just me and now we have 11 employees and four initiatives. With the board, we picked two initiatives, workforce development to make sure that we had a pipeline of workers ready to meet the demands of our employers, and in broadband, making sure that broadband infrastructure and a whole ecosystem around the tech world was thriving.

And then we added housing, which is such a huge issue that comes up no matter what you're talking about. And then we added transportation, which morphed into this climate change initiative. So we have staff that really manifest our mission about creating a thriving region by working in each of those four areas, in order to convene people, to figure out specific solutions that will drive change in those areas.

We're not about admiring the problem and sitting around and talking about the problem some more. Let’s figure out what needs to be done. Let's get a group of smart people involved that know what to do, and let's go. And then we can refine.

I come from high-tech, my COO comes from high-tech. So we tend to be a very different style of nonprofit where we really try to get in and get things done, get in, get out, and move on. So, we're kind of like a little bumblebee. We’ll catalyze a change and get people the right people involved, and then we'll go out and start doing something else.

You guys do move quickly, you get it very quickly, and I think you support in the right ways.

DEREK: That's been clear. I should tell you that our time with your staff and you, and it is very different than the normal nonprofit mode of operation. I think that the staff that you've retained and the ideas that you guys have make engagement from companies like ours. And I think obviously if you look at the quality of people that you have as members and on your board speak to that. And I think if anybody's watching this and wondering if they should become a member, it's a truly different experience, you guys do move quickly, you get it very quickly, and I think you support in the right ways. So I'm really, really proud of the work you guys are doing and even being a part of it.

KATE: Yay. Well, we're so glad to have you, and I think as MBEP has matured and gained momentum, not only here in the region, but we've been getting a lot more attention at the state level. We're hosting the statewide California economic summit this fall. And I think that's just another feather in our cap of how the work that we're doing is really being perceived as impactful.

We certainly try to innovate and do things a little differently and not just try to do the same old thing.

DEREK: Kate, thanks so much for your time today. It's been really fun to talk with you, as always.

KATE: Yeah. Thank you, Derek. It's been fun and I just so admire you and the work you guys are doing, so keep up the good work and keep in touch, and let us know how we can help.

DEREK: Awesome. Thanks so much, Kate, I appreciate it.

We look forward to seeing what MYNT and MBEP do as they move forward into the New Energy Future that they are both working to create.