Meet Mr. Johnny Casana, a true leader in the renewable energy business with a clear vision for a clean grid. He directs North American strategy for Pattern Energy and knows there is a straightforward two-step process to solve climate change: clean the grid and electrify everything. “We have the tools, we have the technology, we have the time,” he said. “It’s actually such an exciting moment to be in this business-wind and solar are now the least-cost power that the world has ever known, electric transmission is nearly everywhere already, and the gaps can be connected. The grid can be big, it can be clean.”
Mr. Casana is an internationally recognized expert in wind, solar, & transmission development, and is especially known for his role in electricity market reforms that the grid needs in order to rise to the challenge of decarbonization. Since his transition to the private sector from anthropology, Mr. Casana has been a dynamic force in the clean energy industry.
Presently Mr. Casana serves on the leadership team of Pattern Energy, the largest independent renewable energy company founded and headquartered in the United States. As a powerful driver of energy policy at the national level and as the Chair of State Policy for the national clean energy trade group, he has represented the business voice of real climate solutions on several industry boards. He has also lent his experience and expertise to multiple international delegations on business and climate, including a trade mission hosted by the President of Mexico, a Vatican Executive Summit convened by Pope Francis, and the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris, where countries across the planet signed the historic Paris Accords. Mr. Casana knows that renewables can do the job, which is an incredible industrial story of technological innovation, corporate ingenuity, strong supportive policies, and the entrepreneurial spirits of companies like Pattern Energy. He believes the power switch from a combustion grid to the ones run by the weather is much cheaper, better, and more reliable than the outdated, expensive systems built centuries ago. “We can build a 21st Century grid,” he said. “We can source our power from the sky instead of the ground. We can survive; we can thrive. To affordably and reliably run our grid, our society, our entire economy on the abundance of the weather, we really just need a grid that is bigger than the weather.”
The Steadfast leader
With his impeccable track record of commercial success in renewable energy and a hand in developing and constructing over 2,500 megawatts of wind and solar energy projects in the U.S., Canada, and Central America, Mr. Casana is entirely committed to his vision of a clean grid. Over the years, he has built numerous wind, solar, storage, and transmission projects that now provide clean, zero-emission electricity to more than 55 million end-use customers daily.
After proving himself as a wind and solar project developer, Mr. Casana moved into political and regulatory affairs, helping to lead government relations for Pattern Energy and building coalitions with a myriad of stakeholders and state and local governments to design and pass some of the most critical, outcome-oriented and business-friendly climate policies in the world. Back in 2018, he provided lead testimony for the most important 100% Clean Energy state legislation in the U.S., the California law SB100, and within two years he successfully helped to pass similar state laws throughout the West, to such a point where the U.S. Western electricity grid is more than 80% aligned on clean energy goals. “The challenge is now less technical, and less political, and almost entirely in implementation, on excellence in execution, and that is precisely where Pattern Energy thrives.”
Building the Largest Wind Project in the U.S. History
Pattern Energy has a reputation for achieving the impossible, taking on the most challenging projects, finding solutions & partners, and getting them done. Mr. Casana played an instrumental role in one of Pattern Energy’s most recent success stories, Western Spirit Wind, the largest clean power project in the history of the U.S. With Mr. Casana as the head of State and Local Government Affairs, this interregional wind and transmission concept was an innovative collaboration between Pattern Energy, the State Government of New Mexico, and the municipal governments of San Jose, and the City of Los Angeles. Even bigger than a nuclear plant, Western Spirit Wind provides more than a gigawatt of the country’s greatest renewable resources to California, one of world’s largest energy markets. The wind from Western Spirit is now delivered across a combination of new transmission lines built by Pattern Energy, and old revitalized transmission lines that were originally built by the city of Los Angeles decades ago to service power from coal plants. This partnership, the retirement of coal, and the use of existing grid capacity was a meaningful public-private collaboration that yielded a superhighway of clean energy directly into the city of Los Angeles. Thanks to the powerful combination of new and old, the political will of many governments, and the transformative technical approach to bridge transmission gaps in the grid have helped produce clean power for the country’s biggest industrial economy. The Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, said that Pattern Energy’s Western Spirit Wind “shows that solutions to the climate crisis have never been cheaper, and helps realize our promise of lower emissions, less pollution, and more clean energy innovation.”
“We have the tools, we have the technology, we have the time”
Indeed, the wind facility was a very cost-effective solution for the Californians that the city council described as “the best overall value” to the residents of L.A. after Pattern Energy won a competitive solicitation for a power supply contract, besting over 100 other project proposals. Western Spirit Wind will now meet more than 6% of the climate change goals of over 4 million residents of Los Angeles. It also serves its clean power to millions more throughout the state.
Mr. Casana was also involved in the half-gigawatt New Mexico to California wind and transmission project named Broadview & Grady Wind, which was fully commissioned in 2019. He is presently running the strategy for his company’s next big project, SunZia Wind, which will be three times larger than Western Spirit Wind at over 3,200 megawatts of wind. The wind project is coupled with a 550-mile high-voltage transmission line, with anticipated commissioning in 2026.
When it comes to the climate, Mr. Casana believes in big swings. With the completion of Pattern Energy’s third suite of wind transmission projects in New Mexico, Pattern Energy will be responsible for more 20 million megawatt hours a year of clean power to California, which is more than all of the state’s rooftop solar panels combined. “When governments, corporations, and large utilities make the right choices on climate, those choices impact tens of millions of people for the better all at once. It’s a great big societal swing.”
Opportunities to Grow
Pattern Energy has broken the gigawatt barrier this year, but for Mr. Casana, the exciting part is within a decade that scale will be a common occurrence. “When I first started in this business, we were amazed when someone could pull off 100 megawatts in a single shot, but today that is about the minimum we could consider. We’ve done a gigawatt now, our next one will be three times the size, and that will become the new normal. It’s incredible.”
Wind and solar are so economical compared to conventional power like coal and fossil gas that Mr. Casana believes there’s a high chance that the necessary transmission gaps in the grid will get plugged, the necessary reforms will be enacted, and the economy will be in a position to run primarily on the weather without disrupting the life of everyday Americans. However, he also knows that the scale of buildout to maintain climate commitments will require exponential growth, which is both a challenge and an opportunity for an entire generation of energy professionals starting their careers.
When it comes to switching power from combustion to renewable weather-based power, Mr. Casana cites studies from U.S. National Labs that show America’s clean energy industry would need to deploy as much as 80 gigawatts of wind and solar energy every year from 2025 to 2040. However, the high water mark was only 29 gigawatts last year, nearly double the deployment level from as early as 2019. “There is an appetite in the U.S. for the clean energy industry to double in size and double again in just the next few years, with still more room to grow new businesses.”
Mr. Casana carries a calm and quiet optimism about the business role in building a 21st-century grid. He emphasized the growing need for new talents and projects when asked to advise young professionals. He believes the U.S. needs a grid bigger than the weather, a grid that can move power across the continent for a constant source of reliable, renewable power as different regions rely on weather patterns from each other. The country will need many more mega-projects like Western Spirit and SunZia. “It’s like a symphony,” he says, “there are different sections, horns, wind, what have you, and this one or that may be quiet for a beat, but the blend of music is always playing, always beautiful.”
He believes there is so much business opportunity and room for growth and he is optimistic too about the climate emergency. He doesn’t get bogged down on blame for greenhouse gas emissions. He says, “this era right now, our time, it is the first moment in history that we have all of the tools and enough time to act. We have a runway just long enough to stem the worst of climate change, to act on emissions. We have real, commercial technologies that are viable, scalable, ready-for-primetime, with supply chains and global talent that can execute, finance and deliver the billions of dollars of infrastructure that will necessary for survival of our species.”
“Renewables have been de-risked, we know how to get them built, we know how to run the system. We need more of course, both power and transmission, sure. But it is no longer a question of inventing something or hoping for some future political will. The business case is here. The moment has come to really do it.”
When asked about whether alternative energy is the future, Mr. Casana turns says wryly, “Wind and solar were the future twenty years ago. It’s such a 90’s idea to say that, to call them the ‘future,’ to call them even ‘alternative.’ Wind and solar are a $500 billion global industry and growing, they are the vast majority of new power projects worldwide, they have been for years, and will be for decades. Renewables are not alternative and they are not the future – they are mainstream and they are today.”