02/09/17 : Luisa Zottis

Q&A: How the 2017 Unsung Hero Award Winners are Advancing Energy Efficiency

Kateri Callahan, Mark Fowler, Maria Vargas, Chester Carson and Gil Quiniones at the Unsung Hero Awards Reception.

(From left to right: Alliance President Kateri Callahan, Unsung Heroes Mark Fowler, Maria Vargas and Chester Carson, and Alliance Chairman and New York Power Authority President & CEO Gil Quiniones. See the full photo gallery)

 

Since the Alliance was created 40 years ago, we’ve witnessed great strides in energy efficiency, and much of it can be attributed to champions of the cause working in every corner of government, business and industry.

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the Alliance celebrated three professionals who played a major role in these accomplishments (full photo gallery here), but have not received recognition commensurate to their contributions to the field. They are the 2017Unsung Heroes of Energy Efficiency!

  • Chester Carson, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

As a Professional Staff Member for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Carson focuses his work on energy efficiency, building codes, appliance standards, climate change, biomass, wind, solar, and rural energy. See Chester’s full bio.

  • Mark Fowler, Legislative Assistant, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.)

Fowler advises Rep. Welch on energy, environment, and agriculture policy, as well as related matters within the Energy and Commerce Committee. Prior to joining the Congressman, Mark served as a policy aide in the office of Senator Claire McCaskill where he also worked on energy and agriculture policy. See Mark’s full bio.

  • Maria Vargas, U.S. Department of Energy

As Director of the Better Buildings Challenge at the Department of Energy, Vargas oversees the programs’ efforts to makeAmerican buildings 20 percent more efficient in the next decade. She also serves as a Senior Program Advisor in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy. See Maria’s full bio.

In this Q&A, we asked how the winners feel about their impact working with energy efficiency, what accomplishments they think are most significant in their career so far, and how they think energy efficiency professionals can create impact. Check it out:

You are clearly dedicated to the cause of energy efficiency. Why do you think it’s so important?

Carson: “Energy is good.” Senator Murkowski likes to say that. And she’s right. Efficiency is good, too. It is good for rural communities in Alaska where energy is extremely expensive; it is good for big cities where there are a lot people living and working – and using energy – within close proximity to one another. Regardless of your politics, reasonable efficiency policies should be a “cause” everyone can support. I think that matters. And I hope that will continue to play a part in whatever progress we can make on the energy efficiency front.

Fowler: As Congressman Welch often says, energy efficiency is a triple win – it creates jobs, saves consumers money, and is good for the environment. That’s a potent combination, especially at a time when much of the discussion around energy policy remains so contentious. The bipartisan, common-sense nature of energy efficiency has helped our nation make important progress in addressing climate change while creating jobs that can’t be outsourced. Yet, despite this progress, there is a significant amount of work that remains to be done in educating businesses and policymakers on why advancing efficiency is in their best interests. I look forward to continuing to work to advance this cause.

Vargas: Energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest and fastest way to meet our Nation’s energy needs while creating jobs, saving money and protecting our environment. On average, buildings in America can save 20-30% on their energy bills—cost effectively. That is a huge opportunity for our country. And one that everyone can agree on.

 

What accomplishment in energy efficiency would you say you are most proud of?

Carson: At risk of making you question why you gave me an award, I don’t think I have that accomplishment, yet. There were various times over the course of the last two years where I thought we were going to get the vast majority of Portman-Shaheen across the finish line as one of the main pillars of Senator Murkowski and Senator Cantwell’s energy bill, the Energy Policy Modernization Act. That didn’t wind up being the case. And that was wildly depressing, but that was also last year. So my new hope is that we will be able to soon point to a broad energy efficiency legislation package that we get across the finish line and can be proud of.

Fowler: One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of is seeing the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act become law last session. There were an endless number of parties who worked for years to get this bill across the finish line – Senators Shaheen and Portman, Representatives Welch and McKinley, and downtown stakeholders like the Alliance to Save Energy to name a few. My role in this process was small, but it was really satisfying to see a bill I’d contributed to become law. Since its passage, I’ve enjoyed working with EPA and DOE to help ensure the law is implemented in a successful manner.

More generally, I’ve been proud of Representative Welch’s ability to work with a diverse range of colleagues to pass bills out of the House in a difficult political environment.  He sets a terrific tone for the office and his collaborative, bipartisan approach has allowed us to succeed on a number of efficiency priorities.

Vargas: What we have been able to achieve by working together. Given the tremendous potential to save energy, money and our environment thru energy efficiency, I am most proud of the partnerships we have formed to work together. Through both ENERGY STAR and Better Buildings, the US government has worked successfully with the private sector and with municipal and State governments to drive action and results that have saved hundreds of millions of dollars and prevented needless air pollution.

 

(From left to right: Alliance Honorary Board Member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) presents Unsung Hero Award to Chester Carson; Alliance Honorary Board Member Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Mark Fowler; and Maria Vargas receiving the award from Alliance Board Director Kevin Self.) 

 

What piece of advice would you give to professionals who want to create a positive impact working with energy efficiency?

Carson: Get fond of energy efficiency wordplay. Seriously, it’s much more efficient to just laugh at all the puns rather than point out that you have heard them all 97 times before. Also, patience.

Fowler: I would say that regardless of where we find ourselves working, we can all do our part to advance energy efficiency. For instance, think tanks and advocacy organizations provide an important perspective of where policy can and should be headed. Similarly, the businesses and contractors who invest in efficiency improvements not only save energy and create jobs, but their work can also provide a real world demonstration of the benefits efficiency investments can generate. Together, these efforts allow us to make a compelling argument for advancing efficiency policy on Capitol Hill.

Vargas: My advice is to know the facts, understand the potential, pay attention to the customer and never underestimate the influence one person – or a small team of people—can have in making a difference.

 

What does getting recognition with the Unsung Hero Award mean to you?

Carson: Other than being borderline ridiculously flattered, it means we keep working. I have yet to experience much in D.C. that is, in and of itself, that energy efficient. So, the irony will just be that much more enjoyable when we finally do succeed in getting an energy efficiency package done. And I believe we will.

Fowler: I’m very appreciative and humbled to receive this award. The Alliance to Save Energy is a top-notch organization committed to achieving results, and I have enjoyed working with and learning from them. I am also grateful to work with a tremendous, dedicated array of colleagues on both sides of the aisle, on and off the Hill who are deserving of this award. The success we’ve achieved has been due to a great team effort, so I want to acknowledge them and look forward to working with them to make more progress during this session of Congress.

Vargas: I am humbled and honored to be receiving this recognition from the Alliance to Save Energy. It is wonderful to be part of a community that is supportive of each other and that is achieving important things for America.