Kelly Speakes-Backman – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) – Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) at Department of Energy
Speakes-Backman is no stranger to potential conflicts of interest. She took a job with an Exelon-funded company three days after voting to approve Exelon’s merger with Pepco holdings.
She now joins the Department of Energy (DOE) as the former chief of a trade association that “represents a diverse group of companies, including independent power producers, electric utilities, energy service companies, financiers, insurers, law firms, installers, manufacturers, component suppliers and integrators involved in deploying energy storage systems around the globe.”
How will she be able to fulfill her duties without favoring one of her previous members? The American people deserve an assurance for impartial government. They should not fear that the person delivering billions for the new energy economy might tip the scales for insider deals, benefitting their former employers and entities their employer represented.
Kelly Speakes-Backman is the Biden Administration’s choice to lead the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Her biography shows over 20 years of experience in the public, NGO, and private sectors, including as a public utility commissioner in Maryland, the Senior Vice President of Exelon-funded The Alliance to Save Energy, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Storage Association (ESA). Yet, while her qualifications may be clear, her commitment to avoiding conflicts of interest and the ability to compliantly fulfill her duties remains in question.
Maryland Public Service Commission
Speakes-Backman served on the Maryland Public Service Commission from 2011-2015. Despite her tenure expiring in September 2014, she continued on the commission until June 2015 in order to participate in the decision to merge Chicago-based Exelon with utility company Pepco holdings. She ultimately voted to approve the merger in May 2015. It was this period of time that raised significant ethics concerns.
While continuing her public service, Speakes-Backman pursued a job at The Alliance to Save Energy – a private company partially funded by Exelon and showing an Exelon executive serving as vice chairman. This information appears to have been publicly known at the time, but Speakes-Backman applied anyway. Though she backed out during interview process, claiming she just became aware of the potential conflict, the Alliance nevertheless offered her a position only three days after her vote to approve the merger.
When the Washington Post conducted an investigation into the matter, she simply denied there was a connection. It is not hard to understand why Speakes-Backman’s decision-making was suspicious at the time. The question remains though, is this the type of behavior the public is to expect while serving the Biden Administration? Will Kelly Speakes-Backman commit to not seeking employment with entities that receive funding or have business before the Department of Energy until she leaves her post?
CEO of the Energy Storage Association
Kelly Speakes-Backman was the former Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Storage Association (ESA), which boasts more than 210 members, 31 Leadership Circle companies, and a Storage PAC to advance its goals. According to its website, “ESA represents a diverse group of companies, including independent power producers, electric utilities, energy service companies, financiers, insurers, law firms, installers, manufacturers, component suppliers and integrators involved in deploying energy storage systems around the globe.” The list of members and entities involved in advancing ESA’s mission is a who’s who of industry and special interests that stand to benefit from billions in funding and important decisions made by the DOE and EERE, specifically.
ESA also claims to have developed The BEST Act, which was passed last year and provides over $1 billion to spend on federal innovation investments in energy storage technology. Will Speakes-Backman be involved in funding decisions or other particular matters related to the ESA-developed BEST Act? How about DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge, which ESA also weighed in on through regulatory comments and advocacy? ESA also claims to have regular communications with DOE officials on “increasing public investments in storage research, development, and demonstration across the full suite of technologies and programs, including at the National Laboratories, oriented toward industry priorities.” Many of these issues appear to be squarely within her responsibilities as the PDAS at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Is she being consulted on these issues as they arise or communicating with her fellow appointees at other federal agencies with whom ESA claims to be communicating?
Considering the range of issues and member companies she worked with while CEO of the Energy Storage Association, how can Speakes-Backman perform her duties at DOE without running afoul of her ethics obligations? Has she worked with the ethics office to clearly identify what issues and former employer restrictions she must adhere to?