Former Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk left his elective office in February to become Director of Energy Systems Development at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) affiliated with the University of North Dakota where he is applying a new level of innovation and creativity to the challenges in North Dakota energy development and management.
The EERC was launched in 1951 as the Robertson Lignite Research Laboratory and has since broadened its mission to all forms of energy in which North Dakota has a stake. It has no state appropriated funds but operates on contracts with federal and state governments combined with private sector project sponsors.
At EERC, Kalk leads a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers committed to development and commercialization of innovative coal utilization, carbon management and alternative fuels. He is well-prepared for the job.
Starting his military career as a private, he developed leadership skills in the U. S. Marines where he managed a plethora of military programs and served in 40 countries, including the conflicts in Desert Storm, Bosnia and Iraq. He retired as a major.
It was in Desert Storm and Iraq when war was being waged in burning oil fields that he concluded that he should focus his future on energy. So upon completion of his military service he mapped out a new career.
Holding a doctorate in Natural Resource Management from NDSU, he joined the faculty in 2006, teaching enterprise resource planning, environmental policy and American government. He was elected to the North Dakota Public Service Commission in 2008, the state regulatory agency that is knee-deep in energy.
But while serving as a public service commissioner, Kalk concluded that his interests in energy were broader than he was experiencing in a state elective office. At the EERC, he got room to apply the kind of creativity that is possible in the flexibility of private service.
“I wanted to be involved in energy research and development at the formation stages,” he explained.
He is now expanding his vision for North Dakota energy development beyond the state’s borders.
“We have multiple sources of energy – coal, oil, hydro, gas and wind – all of which we could be selling on a national or world market as electricity,” he ventured.
“After all, these sources all merge into one common product – electricity,” he noted. “We just need to balance and integrate them into marketable packages.”
“We need to think beyond our borders about energy just as we do with wheat,” he pointed out. “Nobody would suggest that we produce only enough wheat for the North Dakota market. We need to envision ourselves as supplying a world market.”
When it comes to CO2, the air pollutant that has scientists worried about earth warming, Brian is sharing in the search for constructive uses. He noted that preliminary research is now being launched for using CO2 in the greenhouse industry so growing vegetables can become a year-around industry.
This research is made possible by building a consensus of support among the ND Industrial Commission, coal companies, farmers, NDSU and EERC, typical of the consortiums required to launch energy research beyond the norm.
Because of his leadership experience, academic training, knowledge of energy players and public service, Brian is prepared to bring together the constituents necessary to launch innovative research.
From his new vantage point outside of elective office, Brian will probably be doing more for North Dakota as a coalition builder for broad energy research.
Lloyd Omdahl is the former Lt. Governor of the state of North Dakota. He has also been a professor at the University of North Dakota. His column can be found in newspapers all around the state.