Ben Downing became the go-to energy expert at the State House during his decade representing his hometown of Pittsfield and much of Western Massachusetts in theSenate. Now, he’s putting that expertise to use by helping Boston solar developer Nexamp Inc. realize its national ambitions.
Downing (right) chose not to run again for his Senate seat last fall, opting instead to make a move to the private sector. The Nexamp opportunity followed conversations Downing had with Zaid Ashai, the chief executive. Nexamp hired him in November to be vice president of new market development, although Downing continued to serve out his term until it ended earlier this month. He also recently moved with his wife to Boston.
His departure leaves a hole: Downing was the Senate’s lead negotiator on energy issues, and he was instrumental in guiding the state’s big clean- energy bill across the finish line in the final days of formal sessions last summer.
Downing says what he’ll miss most about the State House aren’t the wonky debates about solar net metering or offshore wind contracts. Instead, it will be the daily constituent work in which he could make someone’s day a little easier.
“You work on big issues like energy and it’s six to 24 months between solutions, and even then, they’re only partial solutions,” he says. “But when you can make that short-term quick difference, that’s the stuff that tides you over.”
Downing joins Nexamp at an interesting time for the company. Mitsubishi made a major investment in it last August, and Ashai hopes to leverage that investment to become a national player. The company is in 11 states now, Ashai says, and he wants that number to grow significantly. Downing will play a crucial role.
“He’s been on the regulatory side,” Ashai says of Downing. “We’re in a regulated industry. Having that perspective is really critical in understanding which markets will take off and which ones won’t.” — JON CHESTO
MIT professor brings Deflategate to high schools
It’s been two years since one of the most notorious nights in New England Patriots history, a night defined by the air pressure measurements that triggered the Deflategate saga.
The same night marked the start of a wild run for Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering professor John Leonard, who saw major flaws in the science the NFL used to determine Tom Brady was guilty of ordering the deflation of balls and deserved a four-game suspension.
He gave a lecture on the topic that went viral on YouTube. He authored a piece for Sports Illustrated that disputed the NFL’s claims. And he was among a stable of professors who submitted an amicus brief criticizing the science as Brady’s appeal of the suspension wound through the federal court system. All that, and he’s not even a Patriots fan.
“I’m an Eagles fan, tried and true. I’m not sad when the Patriots lose,” he said. “I can’t choose what I’m obsessed with, and I sort of got obsessed with this.”
As Brady prepares to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Leonard is offering what he says will be his final contribution on the topic: a free video lesson for high school teachers and students on the science behind the controversy.
In the video, released through MIT, Leonard discusses the Ideal Gas Law in the context of Deflategate and tasks students with completing activities related to football air pressure.
Leonard said the goal is to help students better understand the physics of air pressure and temperature by connecting them to a major event in popular culture, not to bellow Brady’s innocence. But he said educating young people about the science might help Brady’s legacy down the line. — ADAM VACCARO
James Roosevelt Jr.’s very busy life after Tufts Health
Some people just don’t know how to retire. James Roosevelt Jr. was CEO of Tufts Health Plan for a decade until the end of 2015.” He stuck around as a full-time adviser for several months, and followed that up with a semester as a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Now the 71-year-old former insurance chief has another new job, as a health care lawyer at the Boston office of the law firm Verrill Dana LLP. He will advise health care companies as they prepare for President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress to repeal President Obama’s health care law, as promised.
“The changes which are about to come to the Affordable Care Act make this a very important time to continue to be involved,” Roosevelt said by e-mail.
He’s also cochairing a task force at the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association on access to behavioral health, coauthoring a book about health insurance, and working as a part-time consultant for Watertown-based Tufts, one of the state’s largest insurers.
“My wife, Ann, says she has heard a rumor that I retired but has seen no evidence of it,” Roosevelt quipped. — PRIYANKA DAYAL MCCLUSKEY
1,100 volunteer to help give away Buffett’s money
There’s no shortage of Bostonians interested in giving away Warren Buffett’s money.
About 1,100 people answered a call by the billionaire investor’s sister Doris, who lives in the Back Bay, to assist with their unique sibling partnership: He sends her the thousands of letters he gets from strangers asking for money, she decides which ones to fund, and he provides the money.
As the Globe reported, Doris asked people in the Boston area to help read those letters. The deluge is being winnowed down, and 100 are now expected to be trained.
The operation used to be part of Doris’s Sunshine Lady Foundation but is becoming a stand-alone nonprofit called the Letters Foundation.
It also has three new staff members:
■ Tevis Spezia, previously of Google.
■ Amy Kingman, who also works for Doris’s Learning By Giving Foundation and was previously at Breakthrough Greater Boston, Mass Mentoring Partnership, and Strong Women, Strong Girls.
■ Leah Hong, formerly of the AIDS Action Committee.
Last fall, 35 requests were granted, totaling $260,000. They ranged from a handicap van to hearing aids to a service dog’s veterinary bill.
“Even if we don’t fund requests,” Kingman added, “we hope to get people connected to the right support systems.” — SACHA PFEIFFER
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