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Former state energy officials join to form Rhumb Line, new consulting firm

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 5, 2011 10:00 AM

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Screen shot 2011-05-04 at 9.45.07 PM.pngA quartet of senior officials who served in the state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs under Deval Patrick are forming a new consulting and project development firm, Rhumb Line Energy. The founders are Ian Bowles, the department's secretary, who left last December, and undersecretary Phil Giudice, who plans to resign at the end of this month. Joining them are Vivek Mohta, who served as the director of energy markets at the state's Department of Energy Resources, and Bob Keough, who had served as the energy department's head of public affairs.

They say their intention isn't to do lobbying, but rather strategy and business development projects for a variety of energy industry clients. "Within the policies that exist today, there are enormous opportunities to deliver more value, and a cleaner energy future," Giudice says. Giudice was part of the early team at EnerNOC, a publicly-traded energy management company in Boston, and Bowles did a 13-year tour of duty in DC as a director at both the National Security Council and the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration.

Bowles says he has already been serving as an advisor to Harvest Power, a company that produces synthetic natural gas from food and yard waste, and FloDesign, which is developing a new kind of wind turbine. Bowles says he is also working with two stealth-mode start-ups being funded by the Cambridge venture capital firm General Catalyst.

Bowles says some of the firm's work will involve helping technology developers bring new products to market as China, which is fast becoming the world's dominant cleantech country, continually drives prices down.

"Already, two of the top four wind turbine manufacturers are Chinese," says Bowles, "and China is responsible for more than 40 percent of global solar panel manufacturing. I think the volume of their investment and their aggressiveness has been incredible." Bowles says the question about Chinese cleantech companies is whether they end up following the Toyota model (Toyota does some manufacturing of cars and trucks in the U.S.) or the Sony one (Sony makes everything in Japan.)

"You have to be that much more disruptive" to make an impact on today's cleantech landscape, Bowles says.

In addition to consulting, Bowles says the firm may explore developing renewable energy generating projects of its own, and that he is also cultivating a start-up concept of his own, geared to making home energy efficiency upgrades more appealing for consumers. (Bowles says he's currently doing an upgrade of a home he recently purchased in Jamaica Plain.) He also has a relatively-new affiliation with the Washington-based "global strategy" firm Albright Stonebridge Group, where he'll work on international projects.

As to whether he might ever be lured back into a state or federal government gig, Bowles says, "I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but it's not where my focus is right now."

A rhumb line, he explains, "is the navigational term for the most direct route between two points and that is a theme of our business." Bowles, Keough and Mohta are on Twitter, but the firm's Web site isn't yet live.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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