Jon:On September 11th of 2001, I was standing in Chase Plaza when the second plane went in first. And as I was standing in my office on the 32nd floor of 40 Water Street looking West, the South Tower collapsed. I watched that happen, got our staff out of the building, got downstairs. He couldn't see your hand in front of your face. To me, those acts of violence paired with many, many, many other acts of violence on all sides around centralized fossil petroleum. It was, it was something that was so clear to me and unfortunately at the time, the senior management of the federal government decided that it was a better plan to go and fight more war over centralized fossil petroleum than to solve the problem, which is defund it and go to solar, go to vehicle electrification, go to wind, go to energy storage. and so, I dedicated my vocational life to that, from that point forward.
Announcer:John Bonanno story is unlike any we've had here on the OZExpo Podcast. He was there with the South Tower, came down. That experience changed the course of his future and may change the way civilization uses energy. John Bonanno today on the OZExpo Podcast.
Announcer:Welcome to the OZExpo podcast where we talk with the people who really know the Opportunity Zone market. From investors, fund managers and developers to tax experts, politicians and attorneys. The most influential voices in the Opportunity Zone industry are here on the OZExpo Podcast.
Jack Heald:Well, welcome back everybody to the OZExpo Podcast. I'm your host, Jack healed. And with me today, John Bonanno of the California Clean Energy Fund and New Energy Nexus. John, welcome to the show and correct anything I got wrong there.
Jon:Jack. Hi. Thanks. Nice to, nice to be here.
Jack:I like to start all of these shows with – actually, I almost always started with two words: “So Um,” and so I'm desperately trying to fix that.
Jon:You can edit it out.
Jack:Tell us a little bit about yourself and about the New Energy Nexus and the way we do this is start with who are you, where'd you come from and how'd you get here?
Jon:I was born on the East Coast and, grew up throughout New England. Um, I was fortunate enough to,
Jon:I was born in New Jersey, went to school in Massachusetts and upstate New York. Um, and then after graduation I came out west to Idaho for awhile, built houses until I nearly cut my finger off and then realized I had to go and, use my brain as well as my hands. Um, and so went back to New York. Um, started my first company and 90, 1995 ish. I've even forgotten now. It's getting enough. I'm getting a little gray. Um, and then I was fortunate enough to sell that company about 18 months later for a bunch of 1990s funny money. Um, which was fantastic. Um, and it was fun. It was fun.
Jack:I sold my company slightly before the silliness started. I didn't get the funny money.
Jon:Shame. Um, so, anyway, um, started a second company with one of my co-conspirators from the first. Um, and we were running two companies in downtown Manhattan and I had a meeting at 7:30 AM on September 11th of that 2001. And, um, I was standing in Chase Plaza when the second plane went in and um, ran to our office because we were doing some overnight engineering work, for a customer in South Korea was a mobile streaming company in 2001 and had to get everyone out of the office.
And as I was standing in my office on the 32nd floor of 40 Water Street, I'm looking west, and on the phone with my brother who was in Connecticut at the time working for GE, the south tower collapsed and I watched that happen. Got our staff out of the building, got downstairs. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face, managed to get up the west, the east side, you know, and then there was a lot of emotional fallout from that.
Jack:Oh my God.
Jon:I ended up leaving New York in November that year, moved to Barcelona, Spain, and live like a monk for almost a year, doing nothing but meditation and, uh, a lot of spiritual healing and analysis as to what had happened. And to me, those acts of violence, paired with many, many, many other acts of violence, on all sides around centralized fossil petroleum.
Uh, just, it was, it was something that was so clear to me and unfortunately at the time, the senior management of the federal government and, and unfortunately others as well, decided that it was a better plan to go and fight more war over centralized fossil petroleum then to solve the problem, which is defund it and stop financing, the violence and go to solar, go to vehicle electrification, go to wind, go to energy storage. and so I dedicated my vocational life to that from that point forward.
Um, so when my wife and I moved to San Francisco Bay area in 2006, I immediately started investing in companies, building companies, in partnership with some great entrepreneurs. I was the committee member, leading committee member for the, clean tech investment committee for Currency Forum. Which is the largest, Angel investor network in the world for several years. And, I was very grateful for that, experience. ultimately ended up, you know, as of today, I was involved with funding and building six different sustainability companies. the last one of which, I sold to the second largest inverter company in the world.
Um, it was not a good financial outcome. I hope the buyer does go and use the technology, but, uh, anyway, ended up reconnecting with an old friend Danny Kennedy, who was the MD of the New Energy Nexus. And, we now work for the nonprofit world, in a, in a very mission driven manner.
Jack:This conversation did not go remotely where I had anticipated, and I am really glad. My head is spinning so I am going to pick some things that interested me that you were talking about, I was talking with Brett Messing a couple of weeks ago, the president of, uh, Skybridge Capital and we ended up talking about meditation. So, I wanna I want to hear from you a little bit more about your practice of meditation. How, you don't, I don't want to, I don't want to dig painfully deeply, but it's obvious that, that this is not merely a way to make money for you.
Jon:Meditation? No, no, no, no, no, no.
Jack:The clean energy motivation.
Jon:Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jack:You know, I hear that genesis post 9/11, Barcelona and a year of meditation. I like to hear more about that.
Jon:Well, it was a very emotionally trying time. I had begun my spiritual journey when I turned 30. and I had, I was in a relationship that was not good for me and, and mostly not good for my counterparty. And, I ended up calling off the engagement that we had decided we were going to do and, went on, began my spiritual journey at that point. And, working with, some amazing resources, found my way to discovery around, you know, higher spiritual callings and, a much more esoteric existence. And, the potential for harmony with the natural environment.
Jack:Can you talk a little bit about, about your spiritual practice, about your meditation practice? Now or then. This, this is the stuff that matters to me.
Jon:Okay. I'm glad to hear that. That's, that's really refreshing. My spiritual practice is a very unconventional, well maybe not very unconventional, but, yeah,
Jack:I already feel like we're going to be friends.
Jon:Um, you know, each, I think that each one of us is part of a shared consciousness and that we all are a different string on a very beautiful, exotic, complex instrument. Um, and so by recognizing that our physical existence is only a small fraction of our true existence is, I think, the first important step. And so finding a quiet place, developing your creativity and your imagination through meditation and visualization is a very powerful method to learn about your own self esteeming learn about your own self-worth, giving yourself love, truly connecting with your higher self, understanding your dark places, understanding your shadows, understanding, um,
Jon:Um, maybe, I'm not a student of that, so I don't know, but possibly, ah, okay.
Jack:That's [inaudible] language there.
Jon:Um, you know, and I also feel like a lot of us and, and despite the best efforts of all parents now that I'm a parent, I recognize this even more clearly, is that none of us are perfect, for sure. And, you know, my, my parents were not perfect. But there were certain things in that, in that pathway that caused some pretty hard, hard times. Some wounding, some things that needed to heal, some dynamics in relationship, things that I had to deal with around my primary, first relationships. Which are my mother and father and by dealing with them through, a meditative state, it was actually very refreshing that it removed conflict because I'm a nine personality and I'm a peacekeeper. And so I tend to throw myself under the bus to keep the peace.
Jack:Tell us about the New Energy Nexus. Yeah. Let's start with the New Energy Nexus.
Jon:Well, the New Energy Nexus is, something that's grown over the last 16 years. It's a 501c3 nonprofit. And our mission has always been very clear. I mean, we support diverse entrepreneurs to drive innovation and build equity into the global clean energy economy. That's our mission. And we do it through helping entrepreneurs, whether they're women, people of color from regions that are traditionally overlooked by private equity, we source and vet and, and create and partner with entrepreneurs to create climate solution businesses. Because the, for us, the entrepreneur is the change agent. and without a profitable business, it will not be sustainable.
Jack:Right. And so, the ultimate sustainability, isn't it?
Jon:Correct. I mean, I think that it, it has to have, a basis in solid economics in order for it to be sustainable. And so we help these entrepreneurs create these great businesses. We then capitalize them through a variety of tools. the California Clean Energy Fund is one of those tools, the Cal Seed program, our Opportunity Zone fund work, which is called myozfund.org, is part of our work. And then we have a variety of other programs that are used to capitalize these entrepreneurs. And then we promote those entrepreneurs. We have 46 companies in our portfolio by the end of this year, we're going to have probably around 75. We're continuing to innovate ourselves on how we can use our nonprofit programming to support, our mission.
Jack:Wow. So many different directions. We could go here. Let's talk, let's start with Geography. You're California based. The what was the Cal Seed?
Jon:Yeah, Cal Seed, yeah.
Jack:Um, what is that? Is that another fund?
Jon:Well, Cal Seed is we have been selected through a competitive process to administrate a pool of capital on behalf of the California Clean Energy Fund. And so, every year we host a competitive Cal Seed program, where over 10, 10 days to two weeks ish. We accept applications through the program. We down select that in partnership with the California Energy Commission. And then we select approximately 25 companies per year to receive a non dilutive injection of capital of $150,000. Okay? So that's fantastic.
Jack:How non diluted as it is?
Jon:It’s an award money. Okay.
Jack:All right. Gotcha. Are by requirement by program requirement of these all California based companies?
Jon:There are companies that have an effect on the California rate payer. Yes.
Jack:Okay. So that takes me to the question that I really wanted to ask about geography and clean energy. Are there, are there hot zones for clean energy in the U.S?
Jon:Yes. There are Jack, but I would actually want to create a little more context here, which is
Jon:Our Cal Seed program is focused on California. But the reason why we've transitioned from the California Clean Energy Fund to the New Energy Nexus is that a lot of our work is going towards the places of greatest need. And, we identified through an enormous amount of research that Southeast Asia and South Asia are the places which we need to focus on. dethroning coal is king, because frankly in a is an area of the world, Southeast Asia that has approximately a billion people, a enormous portion of their grid electricity is generated from coal. And so the plan of electrification, because everyone has a right to electricity, a very low percentage of people have electricity in this region. Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia. if we, as a world, don't find better solutions than burning coal, they will burn coal to electrify everybody.
Jon:And if they do that, it doesn't matter what we do anywhere else. So we have gone to the, because the, the pollutants will be up in the air and we won't be able to stop the effective cascade in climate change that will be catastrophic. So our work right now, we've moved to the New Energy Nexus because our work has become so global in scope. Yes, we have California programs, but really we're taking what we've learned in California and we're replicating that in Indonesia. We're replicating that in Thailand and in Vietnam and in other regions like China. So we're taking our learnings around competitive processes, creating better businesses, capitalizing those businesses through traditional and nontraditional manners, and then promoting those businesses across social media and across traditional media to ensure at least a higher level of success in a portfolio.
Jack:Talk about some of the nontraditional financing.
Jon:Well our, our Cal Seed granting is a non traditional method. Um, we've also been working closely with, DAF advisors. So, donor advise funds, is a, structure that is for a nonprofit giving and you know, program related investments are made from DAF's, made from foundations. Um, so that a company can receive a grant that doesn't take a hit on their capital table, but in a, it gives them the cash required to move their forward. Another example of non dilutive capital is a department of energy grant where through competitive process one can win. Um, you know, a $500,000 or $1,000,000 grant that again, it doesn't hit your capital table, but it does give you the capital you are required to run your business. So those are examples of non traditional non dilutive capital sources.
Jack:So now I'm thinking, let's, let's talk about how your work and the Opportunity Zone program dovetail. I'm guessing that primarily where that overlap occurs is at the entrepreneur level, the guys who are actually creating businesses clean energy.
Jon:Exactly, exactly. So, we first became aware of the Opportunity Zone tax incentive in September of last year, when the maps were finally drawn and put online and digitized. I think that's the moment where everyone realized, wow, this is much bigger than we thought because the past place based investing, tax incentives haven't been particularly, hadn't performed very well. And so I think people might have had their doubts about how was going to happen once we all recognize the scope of it and the ease of use. We said, can we use it for the things we want to use it for, which is clean energy companies and projects. And when reading the legislation, it is clear that, equity positions in both, projects and corporates were acceptable and qualified as investments. So, our original idea was, okay, let's create a fund that's pool capital, let's deploy capital into projects and companies.
And then off we go into the sunset and everyone's happy. So, when I started building the plan for that, that, that work, it almost immediately fell down on two points. The first is, is that it didn't represent exponential change, because even in our best case scenario, we could execute on 10 or 12 fields per year. Which, for us doesn't move the needle in any way, frankly, towards solving the climate crisis. And secondly, if we were the distributor of capital, we would then be negotiating against our customer, the entrepreneur. And so for both those reasons, it did not cut the mustard to be a fund manager ourselves. We recognize the power and the scale of this tax incentives and that it did apply to clean energy. So we, we have decided on a different strategy, which is embodied in myozfund.org. So at that site,
Jack:I stumbled onto that and you mentioned it. So, let's hear more about that.
Jon:Okay. So, at myozfund.org what we were, when we were doing our planning around building a fund, there were some things that really stood out. The first thing is that clean energy entrepreneurs and project developers, whether there'd be they're developing solar or wind or energy storage or vehicle electrification, they were just completely unaware that the Opportunity Zone tax incentive even existed. So we needed to make more people in the sector that we cared about, which is clean energy, aware that this existed. A.` B, we needed to then educate them on this tool, which is a reasonably sophisticated and complex and needs a little bit of education on it. And then thirdly, we recognize that the bottleneck in transacting was the Qualified Opportunity Zone fund itself. And so by creating a legal zoom like service for QOF creation and maintenance and compliance, that is a true value to the entrepreneur. Whether the developing a project or whether they're a marketing a series Z through A of private equity.
Jack:I've got lots of friends down here in the Phoenix area who need to know about things like this and have been asking me where's is there a source? I know there are, I mean I'm talking to lots and lots of individuals, but in terms of a centralized location, that's a really good question. And now I've got a place I can at least send the energy entrepreneurs.
Jon:That's right. And now we're not, no, we're not. We're not supporting fossil entrepreneurs where it's supporting clean energy entrepreneurs.
Jack:Right. I had a question of, because, you know, I make my living with words and so I pay attention to two words. The thought occurs to me, what is the definition of clean energy? How, how is that, how are you using that phrase? I assume you're using it the way most people do, but up until my conversation with you, I realized that my, my concept of clean energy was probably pretty fuzzy. How is, what's the definition of clean energy and how do we know what is and isn't clean according to these definitions?
Jon:Well, I think that, it's very personal with all honesty. I think that if you asked Danny Kennedy what his version of clean energy is, if you ask me, it'd be probably similar to his. If you'd asked somebody else, it might be different. My, so I'll give a personal answer as to what I believe it is. Clean energy to me does not include nuclear and it does not include natural gas. It does not include coal and it does not include oil and that's my answer. So anything outside of that that can create heat or that can do work, um, is something that we need or can move something right. Is, is something that I totally support. So, you know, a lot of people do talk about Natural gas as a bridging tool.
And that sounds like a good story. And it sounded like a good story back in 2002 as well. but unfortunately, we've only grown our reliance on natural gas, so it's really bridging to nothing and we need to just, you know, it's like someone trying to quit smoking. They just have to stop. You can decide to stop. And we as a society and not just American society, every society has to decide we need to stop. And it may not be cold Turkey, but we need to stop and we need to plan for stopping because this is a big industrial machine that's rolled on for the last 150 years, basically unabated and not taking into account any of their outputs or any of their pollutants that they've exported in the cost. We need to take that seriously.
Jack:Criticisms I've run into for solar is that although at the point of energy generation, it's clean. At the point of creating the, the equipment and the point of disposal, it's every bit as quote unquote dirty as fossil fuel. Yeah. I don't know the reality of that, but that's a criticism.
Jon:So, I think that there's some merit and, and, taking the cleanliness of the creation of a solar module very seriously. There are specialty chemicals that are used in the process. Most of the manufacturers are in China and now more and more these days, they're starting to spread out throughout Indonesia, Thailand, and other places throughout Southeast Asia. One has to take that very seriously and into account for sure. But it is, I think when in comparison to, mountain top removal, or fracking, this is a, a, a minuscule, price to the environment as compared to the alternatives.
Jack:Okay. So, it's cleaner by comparison.
Jon:Absolutely. 100% for certain. And secondarily, it is something that we can control on the manufacturing process. So if we as a world organization decide, hey, this is super important that we clean up the solar module, is this even more because we're now doing hundreds of gigawatts of these products per year. It's important that we have some, first of all transparency around that, pollution if there is any and, methods of cleaning it up. Um, and we're very innovative and these are well known industrial chemicals. So, I'm certain that we can find ways to clean it up if it is in fact, more dirty than other places. But I've been to these factories in China, and yeah, I've seen things that make me wow, we could probably do that better, but you know, in comparison, I think the cost is minuscule.
Jack:What about the disposal side of solar panels?
Jon:That's actually an easier one because you control the outputs, meaning that the modules are, you know, they're good for approximately 30 years or more. Um, and yes, they do have a degration in power, but, ultimately, you can use them for a very, very long period of time. Secondly, you know where they are, so you can centralize your, your collection of these things. And when you grind up a module, it goes, it can go back to its basic elements rather than relatively easily. You have silver, you have silicon, you have aluminum, you have glass. these are things that can be sorted out relatively easily. And so, yes, a disposal is possible. Um, but you know, as a solar industry, as we're getting to 30 years, which will be at 2025 through 2030ish, there'll be, you know, scaling capacity that we care about being disposed of. Um, we should develop best practices around disposal. For sure. It would make sense.
Jack:I'm just trying to think like an entrepreneur here. We're coming into an era where solar panel disposal is going to be a business
Jon:Potentially. Yes. Yeah. I mean for certain, yes. The, the, the power plant operators will eventually want to repower those systems because the racking is not going to probably need to be replaced. Um, but the inverters will, it means the inverters will need to be replaced, the modules will need to be replaced, but the interconnection to the grid will remain static and the raking will remain static. And probably the contracted party will probably say, Hey, this has been great for the last, you know, tens of years. Can we do it again for another 20 years? And then you just re powered the system with new modules and you repower the system with new inverters. And off you go.
Jack:Another criticism I've run into with solar and a lot of alternative clean energy sources, is the sheer amount of, I think they call it energy density. Um, fossil fuels have a much higher energy density and therefore they, they require less geography per kilowatt generated.
Jon:That's true. But do we have a limit on land? Not that I can tell. I mean, you live in Arizona.
Jack:Oh, that's funny. I remember back in the late nineties when, when we were in a, a boom, similar to the one we're starting to experience now, there was a criticism about, you know, the, the phrase urban sprawl is a favorite of folks on the east coast who've always lived in packed places. Folks like me who up on the plains are not a fan of, of high-density housing. So urban sprawl didn't mean anything to me anyway. That the complaint was that, Arizona was paving an acre an hour and I thought, oh my God, that is absolutely terrifying. So, I sat down, and I did the, I did the math and at the rate we were paving, we were going to pave over Maricopa county in a hundred years. I went, ah, okay. So probably, probably not nearly as dire as it sounds.
Jon:Yeah, I mean, the land landmass in the United States is tremendous. Um, you know, we are very far from a point where we'd have to worry about, taking over, you know, land for agriculture. You know, you're not, that's not, that's not a real push back. Yes. I think it's, it's a, it's a complaint and it absolutely needs to be looked at and be cared about and be thoughtful about citing these projects. But Geez, I mean we've got a lot of land and a lot of good sunny lands and it got a lot of good windy land and a lot of good places you can do hydro and a lot of grace off shore locations where we can go. I mean, I started a company that's doing a floating foundation for utility scale wind turbines called Principal Power and they can float and eight-megawatt turbine in the ocean. Yeah. That's 480 times 80 meters above the surface.
Jack:How's, how's the power transmitted to land?
Jack:There are things that we have been able to accomplish as human beings astonishes me. I am looking here on the, on my desktop. my, my wallpaper is the interior of Notredame.
Jon:Oh Geez. What a heartbreaker.
Jack:Yeah, I mean, utterly shattering. Yes. You know, this is something they did 800 years ago. It's just astonishing. Has nothing to do with what we're talking about. Other than that, we humans are a pretty ingenious a species.
Jon:So, if you want to see something in genius, go to, this is a side note and you can cut this out. But, go to a Principal Power's website and watch the video around, making the, the wind flows. It's incredible. It's a giant industrial scale floating foundation where you can put, you know, a 480 ton a turbine wind turbine, 80 meters to 100 meters off the water surface and have it perform for 20 years. That's just astonishing. And if you look at the wind maps of the United States, the very, very, very best wind resources with the highest capacity are off the coast of the New England area and off the coast of the west coast of the United States, north west coast of the United States.
Jack:How far off coast?
Jon:I mean, if you, if you put something out, let's say beyond 10 miles, you'd be hard pressed to see it. Yeah. You get the, its depth insensitive. So you could just put it in any depth you want. It floats. It's more like a vehicle.
Jack:Right? Geez. Let's talk about that. I want, I've got, gosh, three or four more questions I want to ask you that this one is, is foremost on my mind. I think maybe for the same reasons you're focused on the energy. But I'm interested in fourth generation nuclear. Tell me about why you exclude nuclear from the clean energy.
Jon:Well, let me, let me ask you, who insures your car? Who Pays, who pays for the insurance of your business that you make money on? I pay for it.
Jon:Who pays for the insurance on nuclear power stations in the United States? It's the taxpayers of the United States. And that makes sense to you? That a private organization that's making money on a private generator is being insured by us as taxpayers.
Jack:Golly, of course. Yeah. It's a private company. And we're paying the insurance on it. No, I didn't know that.
Jon:You didn't know that. Oh, okay. So, there's something called the Anderson Act and you should become familiar with it because you and I are on the hook. If there's ever a disaster at a nuclear facility in the United States,
Jack:By on the, on the hook.
Jon:meaning we have to pay any damages if people die. If, you know, the environmental agencies go after someone for a spill or some sort of terrible thing that happens. You and I are liable. The federal government in the United States is on the hook to ensure any saying around nuclear power facilities. A. that's the first problem. Second problem.
Jack:That's a solvable problem, that's not an energy problem.
Jon:It's not a solvable problem because no private insurance company will ever insure. If, if it's, the, the solvable problem is, is that no private insurance company would ever take the risk on ensuring a nuclear power station. Okay. And they don't, if you look at the major nuclear power generators in the world, it's France and China effectively. And who, who, who built and insurers, all of France's, the French government, the French taxpayers, right. Who builds an insures? All the Chinese facilities, the Chinese government, they build and insure and finance. So wait a minute, why are we the taxpayers paying that price? Now one would say it's very low cost energy. It's firm baseload power. Okay fine. And a lot of it is going to expire in the next 10 to 15 years, meaning their permits will expire. Right. That's, that's good because now that gives us very clear pathway that we must be fully ready to replace that capacity with solar, wind and storage and hydro and geothermal by the time we get there. So we have a, we have a roadmap 10 to 15 years. It's gonna replace huge amounts of base load. We got to do it with renewables 100%
Jack:What about fourth generation nuclear? The stuff that is designed to be incapable of melting down and eats spent nuclear fuel from
Jon:The ones that don't exist.
Jack:There's, there's one that was just put up in Canada.
Jon:Okay. Sorry about that. We've been hearing that. It makes for good MIT review articles. But the reality of that is that very few are getting built and when they do get built, they're getting built in India, China, places that you know, have a little more, I dunno know, have a little more flexibility around a lot of the variables.
Jack:So, so if I can summarize what I think your, your complaint is, number one, because of the danger. Let's put it another way. The risk impact is so high that no private insurer will, will, insure it. So, by definition we are stuck footing the bill and that's fine. As long as there are no, catastrophic events. But in the event of some catastrophe, like,
Jack:Well, I was thinking of Japan
Jack:We all pay a terrible price.
Jack:So, it's the high impact of a risk event.
Jon:Oh, it's, it's like binary. Yeah. Okay.
Jack:All right. Makes Sense.
Jon:And so, if you look at what happened in Jeff and Japan is a good example, Japan turned off all of their nuclear reactors, which was approximately 25% of their generation capacity. They turn them all off for an extended period of time. I think it was almost nine months before they turn the first one back on. Or maybe even longer. You didn't see them. I mean, yes, they had to adjust that to make plans. They had to, you know, change. They had to innovate. But Japan still exists, doesn't it? The last time I checked, they still exist. They still are pretty awesome. I was just there last April. Everything was fantastic. Amazing, beautiful. It's always, yeah. So I didn't see the world crumble because we didn't have nuclear. So it's just a matter of planning and, and incentivizing the transition. So if we want to get rid of it, which we should because of all the reasons, then we just have to say, all right, that's the pathway and here's the timetable we have to deliver. Here are the incentives.
Jack:Okay. And that takes us back to Opportunity Zone.
Jack:I do want to, I want to, before I forget this question, your title is CXO.
Jack:Talk about, talk about what your role as a CXO. Yes. Because this is, I think, I thought this was really interesting.
Jon:So, my, my role as the CXO, first of all, it's an invention of Danny and mine, the X for us stands for multiplier and expander and innovator and I've been involved with the combination
Jack:How about exponentiator as well.
Jon:Yeah, it's exponential change maker for the 16-year-old organization. Um, Danny took over in early 2016 and he and a brilliant woman named Sherry Pittman, started to create programs. Um, and they created New Energy Nexus. They created Cal Seed. They created Cal test bed. They create a challenge. They create a charge up. They created a whole bunch of programs and frankly, they exercise those programs.
They had the practice, those programs, they had to optimize those programs since some of them went away. Some of the ones that didn't make a [inaudible], they threw them away. So the organization was at a point where they had exercised and proven the effectiveness of a variety of programs and we needed to expand our geographic footprint. We needed to expand our capacity with foundation giving, individual giving, corporate giving, people be involved in our nonprofit, giving donations, giving grants, being involved in our financial capital creation activities.
So that was, that's really my work as, as, the expander. Um, one of the things that we discovered is, um, this Opportunity Zone finance tax Incentive is so big that we needed to have a program around it. And so from scratch and very, very quickly, Danny, myself, Christina Borsam, our CFO, and, and Graham Richard, Craig [Inaudible], Orlow O'Connor, a bunch of our partners, our partners, DLA Piper and KPMG have all come together to create this net, this nexus of information for education, information for awareness. And of course, the facilitation of QOF structures on behalf of the requesting party, whether they'd be capital sources, looking to the flood capital and clean energy, or whether they're the equity offer project that we offer or a, or a corporate equity offer, offering their equity to the Opportunity Zone fund investor. So that's the work we're doing.
Jack:It sounds like you're enjoying it now. Tell us where you are right now.
Jon:Uh, I'm in Puerto Rico right now. Um, I was asked to speak at the SENA event, which is the solar, um, national association, and also, the SEARU, which is the smart energy, association representing utilities around clean energy and solar and energy storage. Um, just getting the word out. I mean, I'm on my way this afternoon to go to Minnesota to speak if the Midwest Solar Expo about Opportunity Zone finance and clean energy. And then next week I'll be with you in Las Vegas. And the following week I'll be in Scottsdale, with, Green Tech Media. so we're doing a bit of a run around to find the right places, um, to get the word out about awareness, education and facilitation of qualified Opportunity Zone phones.
Jack:Well, if I don't connect with you in the Las Vegas, I'll buy you a cup of coffee in Scottsdale.
Jack:Yeah, that's my neck of the woods. Well, John, I love the business side of these conversations and the personal side as well. There was one more thing that I saw as I did my research on you and I was looking on LinkedIn and checking all your experience. And there's this, you're the first person I've ever seen on LinkedIn - a life sabbatical as part of your experience stack. World travel with your wife and two young daughters and at which point, you said thank you world. Hear a little bit about that. Just what was it, nine months?
Jon:Yeah, it was nine months. It's, you know, it was, was one of those things that, it, it came in a succession of three. We sold our house in San Francisco in May of 2017. Um, our dog passed away after 13 and a half years. Um, she was, um, she was a great dog and she passed away in July. And then we sold Empower Micro to Sungrow in the fall of that year. And, just that amalgam of things, we didn't have a house. I mean, we were renting, we didn't have a permanent house. And, the business was now over. Um, and although I had a consulting contract continuing with the new buyer, it didn't really require me to be in Santa Fe and Santa Clara anymore. so we just decided to take our kids out of school and homeschooled them for a year. Um, we, went through Europe. We went through Africa; we went through southern India. we went to Southeast Asia; we went through Asia. we went through South America. Just a magical journey. I'm learning a whole lot about ourselves, about each other, about our world. Um, and really seeing a lot of, the climate crisis upfront and personal.
Jack:How old were the girls.
Jon:They were six and eight when we departed.
Jack:Okay. Old enough to, to actually have memories.
Jon:Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure.
Jack:And probably young enough that they were completely free of cynicism. Skepticism just, probably absorbed it like crazy. It was an incredible journey.
Jon:And frankly the magic of it is still unfolding for years.
Jack:Well, I can tell you, you know, Mike, I moved my family to England when my, three of the four kids were still at home and for the two girls it was literally a life transforming experience. Um, there, you know, that was 15, going on 17 years ago now, but it changed who they were. No, not so much of an impact on my son, although here, but up in the finance business, utterly, utterly life-transforming.
Jon:Awesome. I highly, you know, the world is a great teacher and she really is very welcoming and we had the most beautiful experiences and many, many, many, many beautiful experiences that some of the most rich where in southern India, just a truly chaotic, magical place that, that touched us all very deeply.
Jack:I love putting those two adjectives together, together. Chaotic and magical.
Jon:They don't always go together though.
Jack:Seriously. I do well, you know, from a union perspective, the source of creativity is in fact chaos. It makes perfect sense to, to put those two together.
Jon:We ultimately got to a place now. Now listen, Jack, we ultimately got to a place of a rhythm, but it took us a while to get into that rhythm because, you know, at six and eight this was extremely unconventional. And, you know, I, it was, we all had our challenges with to get into a rhythm, but we, we, we did. And, I guess the, the length of the journey allowed us to really go through many phases, which was particularly interesting. Um, so yeah, I just, I want it to say that.
Jack:I normally ask a question of folks that helps to reveal who they are, but I've already asked the types of questions that have done that. Um, my, my normal question is, you're king of the world for one day and you get to solve one problem. What is it? I'm not even going to ask you, because I know, but I'm going to, I'm going ask, uh, a similar type of question, outside of your work. What's one thing you just love to do with your time outside of, outside of your work with clean energy? Okay.
Jon:With clean energy?
Jack:Outside of it outside.
Jon:Um, well, I'm, I'm actually, we've just bought a new home, and so I am very interested in applying these neat technologies that I have been working with for some many years like geothermal heat pumps, and pairing solar with storage, energy storage.
Jack:Do you have a way of doing passive geothermal where you are.
Jon:Yes, yes, you can do heat pumps and that's a really interesting thing hat I am looking at. I am also looking at replacing the natural gas in the house so that we electrify everything and go fully off grid.
Jack:As somebody who loves to cook. Nothing beats gas to cook with.
Jon:You haven't tried the new convection. Clearly you have not. There is some new stuff from General Electric which is absolutely amazing. It gets really hot and sensitive to controls. It's not your old coils.
Jack:I am willing to be persuaded, but I'm going to express my deep skepticism on that point.
Jon:Jack, go try it. Go try it. You have to check it out.
Jack:I will do so. Golly I say this every time. I have loved this conversation Jon.
Jon:As have I.
Jack:If folks want to know more about New Energy Nexus about uh, the Clean Energy Fund, the California Clean Energy Fund. Um, how did they get a hold of you? What's the best way to contact, to get more information?
Jon:Yeah, I think there are two things to do here, specifically around the OZ Expo. Go to the site myozfund.org. So that’s our Opportunity Zone offering. If one is moved to be a contributor donor, engaged in our programs, whatever it might be, you can go to newenergynexus.com. You can get in touch with all of our programs from there. So, I think that would be, and of course find me on LinkedIn. I’d love to chat there as well.
Jack:Very Good, any last words for us before we sign off?
Jon:Clean energy's the way and, and we'd love to use the Opportunity Zone tool to inspire a faster transition to a non fossil and equitable high transition.
Jack:Well, thank you for your time. Jon Bonanno of the California Clean Energy Fund, the New Energy Nexus, myozfund.org. Thanks for being with us. I'm Jack Heald for the OZ Expo Podcast. I appreciate you listening to us and we will talk to you next time.
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