Recollections of Cyrus Noë

Energy NewsData and the Western energy community lost a towering figure with the Sept. 23 passing of Cyrus Noë at age 88.

Cyrus, as he was known to all, was the founder and patriarch of our company, which he started in 1982 and served as publisher until his retirement in 2014 (see CU No. 1819 [10] for more on Cyrus).

Many of you knew him; others of you likely heard of him; and to some of you, he is unfamiliar. But all of you--via Clearing Up, California Energy Markets and our other news and information services--are reaping fruits of his legacy.

Although he frequently acknowledged the role of others (inside and outside NewsData), Cyrus was primarily responsible for creating and developing what you are now reading, along with our other services. By dint of his vision, drive, journalistic excellence, human touch, smarts, curiosity, passion and determination, we are in our 36th year of existence, and aspire to many more.

Cyrus led a full and eclectic life. By his count, he held 65 jobs (and had countless other adventures) before launching Clearing Up in 1982 to keep regional utilities and others well-informed about the legal and financial travails of the Washington Public Power Supply System's ill-fated plan to build five nuclear power plants. CU evolved into a broader Northwest energy newsletter, followed over the years by other NewsData news/information services focused on the Western electricity and natural gas industries.

Cyrus Noë and the radio station plaque
Cyrus Noë at the Aug. 30, 2016 dedication of BPA's Tacoma Microwave station in his name. The plaque behind him recognizes Cyrus "for his dedication to clear communication about complex and sometimes controversial regional energy issues over the past three decades dating back to 1982." (Photo by Nicholas Noe)
A biographical recounting, however, falls short of capturing who Cyrus was and what he meant; to those ends, we present this special section of recollections.

I first met Cyrus in fall 1991, as a Seattle newbie and aspiring environmental journalist applying for a writing/editing position with his energy publishing company. He and his staff hired me--special thanks to Pamela Russell--for Conservation Monitor, a new publication covering the Northwest's accelerating energy-conservation campaign.

One of my earliest recollections occurred when, shortly before publishing deadline for one of the first issues, Cyrus reworked a fair amount of the draft version, to meet his standards. And I thought my standards were high! This exemplified Cyrus' dedication to quality journalism that covered all the basics (accuracy, objectivity, relevance, timeliness, clear writing) but also provided deeper context, and thus greater understanding for readers.

We continue to strive, in every issue, to reach those goals.

Another legacy that lives on is the notion of community, specifically the regional energy community. While this concept predated Clearing Up, Cyrus helped keep the fabric knit together, especially in the Northwest, but elsewhere as well for our other services. He often referred to our newsletters as "common frames of reference" within the industry.

Others below will share their thoughts of Cyrus, so I'll close with remarks originally written for Cyrus' retirement party in December 2014:

"I want to thank Cyrus and share my appreciation for your vision, wit, tenacity, knowledge, mischievousness, wisdom, generosity and that irrepressible twinkle in your eyes. I also want to thank you for all the opportunities you've created through NewsData for myself and many others, from a wonderful group of colleagues, to flexible, collegial and ever-fascinating work, to helping support mortgages, education, travel and many other great things from NewsData salaries.

"Looking out at this room, it's also clear you had a leading role in fostering a sense of community among the regional energy industry. And those are all great legacies, too."

Farewell, Cyrus. Our world is better for your part in it, and lesser in your absence. [Mark Ohrenschall, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Energy NewsData]

I knew of Cyrus long before I met him. I was looking for a place to pursue my new interest in energy policy back in 2002, and everyone I spoke with pointed me to Cyrus.

After several phone conversations we decided to meet for lunch. Food was an integral part of doing business with Cyrus. I would learn over the years that anytime he wanted to talk, it usually meant he had a craving for Thai, Chinese or Italian food.

He picked Tulio Ristorante in downtown Seattle because he wanted the Dungeness crab risotto. And it was there where I gave without question the worst job interview of my career.

The conversation came easily that day. Cyrus was a natural storyteller and that lunch was my introduction into the early chapters of his life. Cyrus grew up in Bozeman, Mont., at a time when a young man could wander freely around the country. Horses were just giving way to cars and the Old West was still hanging on during Cyrus' youth. His tale of hopping a train bound for New Orleans and then catching a freighter for Panama is truly the stuff of legend.

He was a vagabond, explorer, thinker and writer who was cut from the mold of Woody Guthrie or Jack Kerouac. A young, rambling Cyrus Noë would have been a joy to hang out with.

I wish I could have heard more of his stories, especially that day back in 2002.

"So," I said during a break in the conversation. "When do you think they're going to take out those Snake River dams?"


I've known Cyrus for years, first at Pacific Power, then at Bonneville Power Administration and lastly at the Northwest Public Power Association. I had the honor and privilege of being at the event to honor Cyrus as he "retired" from Energy NewsData. He was beloved, and he loved the energy industry. He definitely helped us all take notice of things we might have otherwise missed or not given the appropriate attention to. He is a man who made a difference. [Anita Decker]
For those of you who didn't know Cyrus, what I said was one of the dumbest, most offensive things you could have said to the man. He was one of the region's most vocal and strongest supporters of keeping the dams in place.

He believed very strongly that there were just too many other factors that were negatively affecting salmon returns, and taking out an emissions-free source of dispatchable energy was the height of ignorance and bad policy.

It was as if time stopped that afternoon. His normally round, jovial, Santa-like face quickly sharpened and became edgy.

Over the next hour Cyrus began what I think of as the beginning of my master's education in Northwest energy policy. Few things set Cyrus off like talk of breaching the Snake River dams.

It was during this rant that I first heard the phrase "Salmon Recovery Industry," which Cyrus claimed to have coined.

I remember him stopping just short of calling me a fool. I had read too many press releases and had not done nearly enough reporting--or thinking--of my own, he said. Whatever I thought I knew about energy policy was superficial and probably wrong, and if he hired me, he guessed that I would be on a steep learning curve. He politely advised me to listen more and talk less, until I had some idea of what I was talking about.

What can I say? The caffeine must have gotten to me and I felt the need to break the silence.

Cyrus Noë and the radio station plaque
Cyrus is greeted by BPA Deputy Administrator Dan James, right, at the Aug. 30, 2016 dedication of BPA's Tacoma Microwave station in his name. Cyrus' wife Mary, center, and other family members and Energy NewsData colleagues also attended the event. (Photo by Nicholas Noe)
But the risotto was excellent, as he said it would be. And he hired me! I guess that's proof that he was also a forgiving man.

I've worked for a half-dozen publishers over the course of my 25 years in journalism. Prior to joining NewsData, the publishers I worked for focused exclusively on selling newspapers. None cared about honesty, truthfulness or accuracy. They wanted good stories that they could be proud to share at the next Rotary Club meeting. No negative or controversial stories. Nothing complicated. And always get a nice photo.

"If you don't have anything good to say, than don't write anything at all," was the direction a publisher, and editor, once gave me while covering the Western energy crisis. As you can imagine, it was very, very hard to find a good-news angle to that story. Which sent me on the road to finding Cyrus.

Cyrus demanded context, depth and accuracy, and encouraged his staff to dig into stories and look at them from multiple angles. (I'm proud to say that our current publisher, Mark Ohrenschall, continues that tradition.) He had strong opinions and was willing to defend them, but accurate reporting required reaching out to all voices in a debate--regardless of how wrong he thought they were.

He truly enjoyed meeting with his many friends and colleagues from around the region to discuss and hash out the latest industry quandary. I still remember the excitement in his voice when he described to me for the first time what PNUCC is. He loved the multilayered complexity of energy policy and relished a good debate with friends. Through Clearing Up, I think he found a vehicle to satisfy his massive intellectual curiosity that brought him intense joy.

But Cyrus wasn't a one-trick pony. He could hold forth on country music, energy policy, politics, art, history, travel, culture, literature and food (especially food!).

On the morning of Sept. 23, Cyrus' big heart stopped and he hopped the train to the great beyond. He wandered around, thought deeply and enjoyed life for 88 years.

Those who knew him, and were lucky enough to hear his stories, know that the Northwest lost not only a great character, but a good and caring man who deeply loved and respected the people involved in making Northwest energy policy.

We'll carry on without you, Old Friend, and try to live up to your standards.

Thanks for giving me a chance.

We'll miss your stories and hearing your voice, but we take comfort in knowing that you fully enjoyed the ride. [Steve Ernst, Clearing Up Editor]

I first met Cyrus when I was working in media relations at Puget Sound Power and Light Company (now Puget Sound Energy). After working with reporters from the mainstream media, it was always a relief to have Cyrus or someone else from Clearing Up call about an issue or story. They knew the industry, knew what questions to ask, and were always objective.

In covering our industry, Cyrus added greatly to the collective wisdom and had an enormous impact on this region. As a thought leader he was knowledgeable, personable, and a truly great writer who had an instinct for what mattered most regarding energy in the West. Though his legacy lives on, he will truly be missed. [Scott Corwin, Executive Director, Public Power Council]
A journalist at heart, I jumped at the chance when Cyrus asked me to write for and edit a new publication, Conservation Monitor, that was focused on one of my special interests--energy efficiency and conservation. It was a great opportunity to help inform the region about developments in energy efficiency, and I like to think the publication influenced the regional energy industry's transition to viewing conservation and efficiency as the legitimate resources we now know they are.

One of Cyrus' unique talents was his ability to influence the energy community--a group that was pretty conservative and closed when he started Clearing Up back in the days of the WPPSS debacle. I recall attending numerous meetings and conferences with him, madly taking notes for whatever story I was going to write, while he sat quietly and observed the proceedings--unless he was moderating a panel or discussion, in which case he was not only loquacious, witty and engaging, but excellent at zeroing in on the issues and generating real discussion among panelists.

Even more impressive, Cyrus would follow up with a great column about the event--without taking a single note. It just didn't seem fair!

I always loved his columns--even when I didn't agree with him. He had a special way of engaging the reader, moving off on amusing tangents (remember his Humongous the Dreadnaught columns?) but always coming back to make his central point.

He was one of the most intelligent men I've ever known. Staff meetings with him were always interesting; he'd mix references to obscure books or magazine articles into the discussion, and then casually drop some bombshell energy development he'd picked up in one of his many conversations with various industry leaders--which we'd then scramble to follow up.

He was an excellent cook (I have his ratatouille recipe), an eclectic music lover (I remember discussing Shania Twain albums with him), a mentor and a friend.

Cyrus was also a unique member of the regional energy community--someone who could bring the region together to grapple with difficult issues and come up with solutions. We are better for having had him in our midst, and he is sorely missed. [Jude Noland, former Clearing Up Editor and Senior Contributing Editor]

In 1982, Cyrus called me up after I had written an article for the Seattle Weekly titled "Methodical Waffling: Power Council's New Planning Strategy Skirts the Big Issues." The article dealt with the pros and cons of the Council's resource "options" policy (power director Jim Litchfield), but I suspect Cyrus was more attracted to the waffling metaphor.

Living in Olympia, I began reporting for him on the state Legislature's attempts to deal with the effects of the Washington Public Power Supply System default. That meant each week, I would pick up the phone and dictate a short article, which he likely transcribed using WordStar.

When I moved to Seattle, I went to work full time in Clearing Up's first office, Cyrus and Mary's basement in a nice bungalow on Queen Anne Hill. One day, a camera crew from 60 Minutes came down the stairs to film a story--the bond default was big news in the East.

Highlights of the early days included having "high tea," which consisted of stews and accompaniments Cyrus prepared and served to us around 3 p.m., and Friday afternoons when a motley crew of students showed up to collate, staple and stuff the envelopes so the energy news could go out.

Not many can create a regional institution out of nothing but imagination and hard work, but Cyrus did. [Susan Whittington, first Editor, Clearing Up]

Back in the '90s, I was in Missoula covering the Northwest Power Planning Council meeting where the Council was voting to pass the Gorton amendment.
Cyrus and his creation, Clearing Up, had an enormous impact on our region's utilities. He managed to bring a great sense of humor into enormously complicated and frequently controversial subjects. [John Ellis]
It was controversial, because it was setting up the first scientific review of BPA-funded fish and wildlife projects, and some of the states and tribes were against it. Cyrus was there as well, because it was a big deal.

We found ourselves in a dimly lit Chinese restaurant discussing the issues, when he mentioned we were just down the street from where he got his first newspaper job. As I recollect, he said he was about 13 when he landed a job after school as a copy boy at the local UPI office. His main duty was to roust out and sober up one of the local famous reporters, who was usually to be found in one of the local houses of ill repute.

Cyrus said the women patted him on the head and generally gave in to their maternal instincts while he was hanging about, waiting for the reporter to get dressed. [Bill Rudolph, former Clearing Up Associate Editor and NW Fishletter Editor]

Cyrus Noë was special. He had the temerity to start Clearing Up at the brink of immense change in the Northwest electricity industry, and the tenacity not only to keep it going, but to report the news through a shape-shifting future unlike anything the industry had anticipated.

He was unafraid to let the chips fall where they may. He did not shy from controversy, though controversy often found him in support of the Bonneville Power Administration and Northwest utilities, whose health he recognized as central to the region's prosperity.

Colorful, and with a philosophical bent that was uncommon but much appreciated by his readers, he made his publications essential.

I cherish the few times Cyrus and I got together to chew the morsels of the day, and the collegial attitude he extended to me as a fledgling publisher. A vivid personality, a statesman, a raconteur, we may only hope to see his like again. [Robert Marritz]

Since many of these remembrances of Cyrus Noë are from those who knew him well and worked closely with him, here's an appreciation from someone who didn't, but who had a strong professional admiration for what he accomplished.

Starting a publication devoted to Northwest utility and energy news and issues might not have been an obvious decision to make in 1982, when Mr. Noë launched Clearing Up. There were already associations and national trade publications covering much of the same turf. More significantly, the utility-and-energy sector, and such region-specific issues as WPPSS and fish policy, were covered in considerable detail in the Northwest's media outlets. Even modestly sized newspapers had energy reporters covering the IOUs, the municipals and PUDs, Bonneville, the regulators and the galaxy of interest groups. Most also had environmental-issue reporters whose beats frequently intersected with utility coverage.

As it turned out, Mr. Noë was well ahead of his time. Daily newspaper staffs and coverage have been eviscerated. In some cases the media outlets are gone completely; King County alone lost two daily newspapers. With rare exception, utilities get little coverage unless there's a crisis, and it's not of much depth even when that happens.

But here is Energy NewsData, with its family of publications, its conferences and its coverage and institutional knowledge of its sector to a breadth and depth that mainstream media can't hope to match, not that they show much interest in doing so. The business and media model of Energy NewsData is one that's been increasingly adopted in the internet age, with startups devoting their attention to a specific community, industry or topic, keeping alive the explanatory and spotlight missions of journalism.

Mr. Noë might not have predicted the rise of the internet or what it would do to the media business, but he did have the wisdom to build a company that didn't just survive but proved its value. That in itself is an impressive accomplishment. [Bill Virgin, Clearing Up contributing columnist]

I first shared a podium with Cyrus Noë at BPA headquarters in 1990 on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Jack Robertson and I spoke movingly of stewardship and sustainability. Cyrus used the occasion to denounce the Endangered Species Act and all its works. I complained afterward to him that the timing seemed a bit off, and he was
Back in the early '80s, as the "Whoops" debacle threatened to engulf the Northwest energy system in a debt crisis befitting a banana republic, Cyrus Noë diligently helped the region understand the mess and sort it out. Over the years, his hard work and leadership created a legacy of sharp, thorough, balanced and factual energy journalism that benefits everyone in the West who flips on a light, turns on a furnace, and cares about clean, affordable, and reliable energy in our special part of the world. [Jim DiPeso, Energy NewsData Potomac correspondent]
wholly unrepentant. But a few years later he was working strenuously behind the scenes to broker a settlement among all the contending interests in salmon recovery on the Columbia River system, in an effort infused with a sincerity and goodwill that won the respect of all involved (it is chronicled in a report that he published in 1997 called "Breaking the Deadlock").

Cyrus helped launch the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, while ostensibly chronicling the process, and he was an impassioned supporter of both institutions. He was a journalist of monumental talent, but he was never content with reporting events; he wanted to shape them, and to a remarkable extent he succeeded, without ever losing his credibility as an objective observer and constructive critic.

He understood the importance and potential of energy efficiency across the Pacific Northwest before almost anyone else, and never flagged in his interest and enthusiasm. No one active in the wonderfully complex Northwest electricity sector will ever match his range of relationships, his boundless curiosity, or his tenacious dedication to the public interest. I am proud to have been his friend. [Ralph Cavanagh, Natural Resources Defense Council]

I had the pleasure of knowing and interacting with Cyrus over most of my 22 years with Puget Power, and the nuclear era in the Northwest. I was asked to introduce Cyrus at some event where he had been asked to speak. As I familiarized myself with his background and accomplishments, I learned impressive things I had not known about him. In my introduction, I concluded by making the observation that "Cyrus is a true Renaissance man."

Cyrus had an uncanny ability to "bear down" on a topic and reveal the underlying truths. He will be missed. [John Prescott, Western EIM Governing Body Member]
I also look back, reflecting on the first encounter with Cyrus, at a Sea-Tac hotel (as I recall), and thinking to myself, "This isn't going to turn out well." But of course, it did. Over the years, through the ups and downs of the Northwest utilities' nuclear experiences, I came to recognize what a contribution Cyrus was making. He had the foresight to recognize the need for Clearing Up, a layman's guide to the complexities of the utility business and the nuclear technology being widely adopted in our region.

I always looked forward to his opinion pieces, because he was so frequently right-on! I came to value our relationship. We frequently met for lunch at a restaurant in Seattle, where we talked about ongoing issues and events. We were sometimes "off the record," and Cyrus never violated a confidence.

He surrounded himself with very capable people and expanded the reach of Clearing Up, but I confess I missed the wit and wisdom of the early years, when most of the writing was his. I was fortunate when, upon retiring, Cyrus provided me with a lifetime subscription to Clearing Up, which I still receive and read with interest weekly. (He probably didn't think I'd live so long when he gave me that gift!)

And lastly, we all enjoyed his creative sense of humor, with the April Fools issue and the Christmas carol parodies regaling us each year.

God bless you, Cyrus, and thank you ever so much! [Bob Myers]

Two things really stick out to me about Cyrus' contributions to the West Coast energy business. First, there are at least two generations of people, myself included, who were educated about the energy business by Clearing Up. The steady stream of information and enlightenment that arrived each week was invaluable to me and countless others as we grew up in this business.

We were lucky to have known Cyrus. He made a huge positive impact on the energy industry. We are all so thankful NewsData continues the tradition Cyrus started many years ago. Cyrus, you will be missed and never far from our thoughts! [Scott Brattebo]
Second, and more importantly for me, Cyrus forced us to think critically. Perhaps as a consequence of Clearing Up's birth chronicling the WPPSS litigation, Cyrus questioned and probed issues, causing the rest of us to do the same. That has been an invaluable skill for navigating an industry prone to groupthink.

Thinking of Cyrus will always bring a smile. The description of Cyrus in Walt Crowley's book remains perfect: "Cy is perfectly cast as that uncle your parents always advised you to avoid--round, bearded, gravel-voiced, and probably not thinking wholesome thoughts behind those impish eyes." The first time I met Cyrus I thought, "It's Jerry Garcia, man, Jerry!"

Appropriately, then, my thoughts turn to the final stanza of the song "Cassidy" by John Barlow and Bob Weir:

Faring thee well now.

Let your life proceed by its own design.

Nothing to tell now.

Let the words be yours, I am done with mine.

[Bill Drummond, Executive Director, Mid-West Electric Consumers Association]

Cyrus and I became acquainted soon after my BPA career began in 1979. By 1981 I was immersed in the enormous WPPSS conflagration that developed from ballooning construction costs, declining load growth, rapidly increasing BPA rates and controversy growing by the day. As a consequence, Cyrus became an important part of my life, and that continued for the remainder of my career and into my retirement.

Agree with him or not, it was a real blessing to have Cyrus commenting on the Northwest electric industry with such color and verve and erudition, and without excessive concern for offending anyone. I always looked forward to Bearing Down, even when cringing sometimes (as a planner early in my career, I was stunned to hear that "the planning dog won't hunt"). Thanks for being the industry muse, Cyrus. [Paul Norman]
How Cyrus developed a thriving business reporting on WPPSS is a great story in its own right. The ensuing litigation was impossibly complex; principals were reluctant to discuss it, let alone be quoted in news reports; it involved the entire utility leadership in the Northwest; Congress was involved, as was Wall Street. The cornerstones of success for Clearing Up were accurate reporting, distillation of enormous amounts of data to identify the truly important items, and journalistic integrity that earned the trust and confidence of regional power entities. These qualities continue to serve NewsData well. Cyrus established himself as the gold standard of energy journalism, which continues.

He also realized that understanding the business was key to not only accurate and meaningful reporting, but also anticipating the future. He recognized very early the importance of conservation and fish and wildlife to our energy future, and took initiative to report fully and completely on their evolution. He also recognized the importance of California and Canada to both the past and future development of the Northwest power and transmission systems.

And he knew that to build a first-rate NewsData business, he needed to hire people that were the best in the business, and would measure up to his standards of journalistic excellence. He succeeded--magnificently--as all of us in the business see every day.

Cyrus touched so many people at BPA over the years. He could simultaneously poke, prod, test, question, and then ultimately celebrate our zigs and zags along the path of progress. He was a sane voice, a good friend and will be fondly remembered by all. [Elliot Mainzer, BPA Administrator]
And, perhaps most importantly, he recognized that our business was more about people than power, understanding who had the ability to influence the future and how they might do it. I had many fascinating conversations with him on this topic. I remember one in particular where we were discussing the most influential people in the business, and how they achieved results, often claiming no personal credit: Aldo Benedetti, for example. Cyrus said: "Oh, it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant." It was the first, but not the last time he quoted Shakespeare to me to illustrate a point.

Cyrus was a humanist. He helped me so many times in my career at BPA and Portland General Electric--both intellectually and personally. For those things I will always be grateful.

Cyrus, you've been a journalist extraordinaire, a wonderful counselor, and a dear friend. I will miss you. [Walt Pollock]