Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory's National Bioenergy Center
Dr. Thomas Foust is the Director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Bioenergy Center (NBC), a world leading organization of approximately 200 engineering and scientific staff performing cutting edge work to develop cost effective, environmentally sustainable technology for producing transportation fuels and products from biomass. He is also a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado State University, a position he has held since 2017.
Dr. Foust is a comprehensive expert in the clean energy area with a specialty in bioenergy with over 25 years of r&d and r&d management experience. His areas of expertise in bioenergy include feedstock production, biomass conversion technologies to fuels and products and advantaged uses of biofuels and bioproducts. Additionally, he has worked extensively in environmental and societal sustainability issues associated with clean energy. He has over 100 publications in the clean energy field covering numerous aspects of r&d, technoeconomic analysis and environmental sustainability.
Dr. Foust has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Idaho, a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University, and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. He is a licensed Professional Engineer.
CEO, Energy Workforce & Technology Council
Leslie Beyer is CEO of the Energy Workforce & Technology Council in Houston, Texas. Working with the Council’s Board of Directors, she serves as primary advocate for the energy services sector and the key role it plays in providing reliable, affordable, cleaner energy to the world.
Highlights of Beyer’s career include 15 years in Washington, D.C. serving in the U.S. Senate, multiple presidential campaigns, The White House – Executive Office of the President, U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Most recently, Beyer served as Director, Member and Board Relations with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), collaborating with NAM member companies on targeted priority legislative issues and advocacy efforts, primarily in the energy industry.
Beyer holds a BA in Latin American Studies and Spanish from the University of Texas at Austin. She is an Independent Director on the Board of Natural Gas Services Group, Inc. in Midland, TX, serving on the Audit, ESG and Compensation Committees. She also serves on the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston Board and World Oil’s Editorial Advisory Board. She is a former Independent Director at Pemex Procurement International (PPI) and served on the U.S. International Trade Administration’s U.S.-Mexico Energy Business Council.
Retired, President ExxonMobil Foundation
Ed Ahnert retired from ExxonMobil in 2005 after almost 28 years of service with the company, over 14 as head of the ExxonMobil Foundation and contributions manager for Exxon Mobil Corporation, and 13 years in various positions in the treasurer’s department.
Ahnert graduated from Rice University with a BA in English literature. He earned a master’s degree in international relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
Executive Director, Morgan Stanley
Vikas Bharathwaaj is an executive director at Morgan Stanley and has been a member of the firm’s energy investment banking team since 2008. He has held various roles in its Calgary, Houston and New York offices.
Having led and executed several strategic and capital markets transactions for his clients in oilfield services, upstream E&P, refining, chemicals and metals and mining, Bharathwaaj is responsible for the group’s oilfield services coverage and execution initiatives.
Senior Vice President, Integrated Planning (Carolinas), Duke Energy
Bill Currens serves as senior vice president of integrated planning for Duke Energy in the Carolinas. He is responsible for coordination of planning and execution of the company’s clean energy strategy in both North Carolina and South Carolina. Before assuming his current position in May 2021, Currens served as senior vice president of financial planning and analysis for Duke Energy. He was responsible for the business and financial planning functions of the enterprise, including oversight of the company’s financial forecast. Since joining the company in 2002, Currens has served in a number of leadership positions including senior vice president, controller and chief accounting officer and vice president of investor relations.
Prior to joining Duke Energy, Currens spent more than nine years with the public accounting firm KPMG LLP.
A native of High Point, North Carolina, he earned a BSBA and a Master of Accounting both from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. In 2015, he completed The Executive Program at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
He is a CPA in North Carolina. He actively serves in the community on the board of directors for the Renaissance West Community Initiative, the United Way of Central Carolinas and the N.C. Zoological Society
Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Tennessee Valley Authority
David Fountain serves as the executive vice president and general counsel for the Tennessee Valley Authority. He joined TVA in June 2020 after more than 20 years with Duke Energy and its predecessor companies Carolina Power & Light (CP&L) and Progress Energy. Before joining TVA, Fountain served as Duke Energy’s SVP – legal, chief ethics and compliance officer and corporate secretary.
He also served as Duke Energy’s North Carolina president where was responsible for the strategy and financial performance of the state’s largest electric utilities. At varying times in his career, he has led the legal functions supporting the company’s nuclear, commercial transactions, state and federal regulatory, corporate governance, human resources, litigation, EH&S, internal audit, and ethics and compliance departments.
A triple Tar Heel, Fountain earned JD, MBA and undergraduate degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Senior Manager, Sustainability and Energy, Panasonic
Tina Jeffress is a senior manager with Panasonic North America’s Corporate and Government Affairs team, covering energy and sustainability.
She was previously a management consultant at ScottMadden where she specialized in the electric utility business and ESG issues.
A member of the UNC Kenan-Flagler class of 2018, Tina served as president of the MBA Energy Club and received the Core Value Award for Leadership. Tina holds an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler and a BA in International Development from UCLA.
CEO and Owner, Sunshine Solar LLC
Steve Newby is the owner and Chairman of Sunshine Solar LLC.
Previously, Steve was the founder, president and CEO of Summit Midstream and a member of the board of directors of Summit Midstream Partners, LP, and Summit Midstream Partners, LLC.
He is a graduate of UNC Kenan-Flagler with a BSBA and a concentration in finance. He is a board member of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia, and in 2012, was named one of Forbes Magazine’s Most Powerful CEOs under the age of 40.
Professor of the Practice, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
Chris Vlahoplus serves as an internal advisor and liaison for key client relationships and work. He also provides mentorship across the firm and closely supports ScottMadden’s analytics capability. Before this role, he was a management consultant to the energy and utility industry for 28 years, serving 20 years as a partner. He led ScottMadden’s clean tech and sustainability practice area for six years, including a role as co-leader of the firm’s nuclear consulting practice. He assisted more than 40 companies focusing on electric generation business management, merger integration, strategic and business planning, organizational restructuring and management models during his tenure. He also worked in nuclear safety at Duke Power Company.
He earned a BS.in mechanical engineering from the University of South Carolina, an MS.in nuclear engineering from MIT and an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Attorney at Law
Ed Finley practices law in Raleigh for clients in utility-related matters. From 2007 through 2019, he served as chairman of the North Carolina Utilities Commission after initially being appointed by Governor Easley. While on the commission, he served as first VP, a member of the executive committee and chair of the Electricity Committee of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners.
In addition, he served on the advisory council to the board of directors of the Electric Power Research Institute. He served as president of the Organization of PJM States, Inc. Between 1974 and 2007; he practiced law in Raleigh.
He has undergraduate and law degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Board Member, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation
Paula Sims has 30 years of corporate experience in the aviation and utility industries. She held positions of president, chief operating officer, SVP of corporate development, chief integration officer, SVP of operations, VP of strategy, audit manager and human resource manager with Progress Energy. She spent 15 years with GE Aviation in various engineering, operations and plant management roles.
She transitioned to UNC Kenan-Flagler in 2012 and served as a professor of the practice of leadership and organizational behavior and executive coach for almost 11 years. She was appointed to the Pinnacle West Capital board of directors in 2016 where she chairs the nuclear and operations committee and is a member of the governance and finance committee. She also serves on an advisory board for Strata Solar, LLC, and as a board member for McKim & Creed.
Sims earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Virginia Tech, a master’s degree in engineering from Boston University and an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Retired, Vice President, Safety, Health and Environment, ExxonMobil
Sherri Stuewer was vice president, safety, health and Environment for Exxon Mobil Corporation. She is responsible for developing, reviewing and coordinating ExxonMobil’s worldwide efforts in the environment, safety,and health areas. Before her current assignment, Stuewer was strategic planning manager for ExxonMobil, general manager of the Exxon Company U.S.A. supply department and manager of the Exxon refinery in Baytown, Texas. Over her 30-year career with ExxonMobil, she has held various technical and managerial positions in refining, planning, and logistics.
Stuewer is a member of the Board of Trustees and the Engineering College Council at Cornell University. She also is a board member of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. She is a past chair of the Industry Advisory Board to the International Energy Agency.
She holds a BS and MS in engineering from Cornell University. She is married and has two daughters.