What Drives Energy Efficiency In The Southeast?

Posted on September 26th, 2012 by

Michael Mills, President of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA), discusses new research about energy efficiency programs in the Southeast.

Full Transcript:

Karla Hernandez Can you please tell us what the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance’s main goal is and how the organization carries it out?
Michael Mills The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance really is the clearinghouse of relationships and ideas around energy efficiency market transformation. What that means is that we try to bring people from the public sector, the private sector and utilities together to talk about public policy, industry trends and different programs and services, all with the goal of making the South more energy-efficient. And we do that by delivering programs and community-based initiatives that are driving retrofits for small businesses and individual homeowners. We work with states like Mississippi and Alabama and South Carolina on their building codes and on their state energy policy. And then we really are the convener of industry leaders around efficiency. We have speakers, we have social gatherings  – again, really creating a platform for people to come together to talk about efficiency and to talk about solutions.
Karla Hernandez Last week the Alliance released very interesting information regarding energy efficiency programs in the Southeast. Could you please talk to us about these initiatives? How did you come up with the idea to prepare the snapshot reports?
Michael Mills It’s really exciting when you have tremendous results going on in communities across the Southeast. What we wanted to do was identify those results, whether they be job creation, energy savings or the type of installation that people do to drive efficiency. We wanted to put it in terms that people understood. How much carbon is being reduced from the atmosphere and what does that mean in terms of something like cars of coal you take off the tracks? We have talented staff here that does that, and actually Ashley Fournier, our data analyst is the mastermind behind it – she’s  been fantastic. We’re thrilled that the reports are getting attention.
Karla Hernandez Wow great. Eileen, what was an unexpected pleasant outcome and what was the biggest challenge?
Eileen Nebhut Speaking about the program, the biggest challenge with the grants that we were running is that all of our programs are different. Some are run through municipalities, some are nonprofits … They each adopt and run completely differently from one another. And see ourselves as a test lab to see what works well and what obviously doesn’t. There’s been a huge learning curve, and we’ve seen different results produced by different cities because of their diverse structure and implementation plans.
Karla Hernandez Could you please talk to me a little bit about the organization’s plans for the next 12 months?
Michael Mills For SEEA as a whole, we’re really excited about our continuing role in public policy. We are working with the state of Mississippi on its energy plan. We are also helping states like Alabama and South Carolina who took really exciting steps this year introducing commercial building codes. Now we’re going in and holding programs with partners like Advanced Energy and state home builders associations to teach home builders what’s in the code, what should they be looking for and how they can build to it. On the policy side, we’re really rolling up our sleeves and getting in and working with communities on these initiatives to make sure that they are adopted. I think we’re also looking forward to broadening the number of people that we’re bringing to the table to talk about efficiency. We just were in the Research Triangle Area of North Carolina and held something called a “Power Hour.” It’s a new program that we created, and it’s really just high-impact networking and relationship building in a small group of high-level, influential folks from utilities, government and companies. Hopefully that creates a platform for an ongoing dialogue on energy efficiency. And I think the last overall piece which is really critical is what’s next with the expertise we’ve gained. Eileen mentioned that the Better Buildings and State Energy Program grants are really test labs. So in those test labs as we wrap up this program this year, what can we learn from them, what are the lessons that we can take to other cities and how do we, as an organization, leverage and market that expertise? I think that’s where we’re headed, but we’re thrilled and excited about the progress around efficiency that we really see taking place everywhere from governments to utilities.
Karla Hernandez Oh great excellent. Well, I was wondering if I can ask a personal, political question. I know that you have a lot of policies and practices following government standards and initiatives. Do you foresee any changes in the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance’s projects or plans in case Mr. Mitt Romney wins the election?
Michael Mills For us, we’re less concerned about who sits in the White House and more concerned with our partners, whether they be government or private. What we’ve seen across the Southeast is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Republican governor in Mississippi or the Democratic governor in North Carolina. People are starting to see the value of efficiency, and only then for very different reasons, whether it’s the benefits to the environment and the community or creating jobs and helping businesses save. So for us, we’re really not focused on the election. We’re certainly watching it, but we’re more focused on the partnerships that we’re building around the region. And that will matter and stand the test of time more than who’s in the White House.
Karla Hernandez Okay, thank you. This is going to be my final question. Could you please tell me a little bit why you are doing what you’re doing and why this industry interests you?
Michael Mills I think energy efficiency is such an amazing space because we can take action now. We talk about renewable energy. We talk about whether were drill more or drill less. Efficiency is the thing that we can do today, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re an individual home owner, a company or a government; it’s something that we can all be heroes on today. And it improves our economy, it creates jobs and it improves our environment. So for me, I think, it’s one of those things … How do you argue with things that save money for people, create jobs and are really good for the environment? That’s exactly SEEA’s role, it’s creating a new marketplace for energy efficiency. And doing that means that those three goals happen faster. We’re excited about the progress. This is really about partnerships, and SEEA is the place where people come together. We don’t have all the answers, but we have great questions and create an environment where people can talk about them and come up with answers together. So that’s why we’re most excited about the work that we do.
Karla Hernandez Awesome. Okay and before I let you go is there anything that you would like to share with our audience?
Michael Mills You know, I think I would just reiterate one point, which is people think that being efficient is expensive or complicated or out of their reach. It’s quite the opposite. And whether it’s our website, www.SEEalliance.org, or other industry places, they can find quick tools, quick suggestions, and access to grants or rebates that they can get and take action today. The message I would leave is that taking action is not as complicated as you think and the benefits are going to be greater than you imagine.


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