Reflections From a Four-Decade Career in Energy Efficiency
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Reflections From a Four-Decade Career in Energy Efficiency
Guest blog by Steve Wright, General Manager of Chelan County PUD and an Alliance Board Member since June 2017. Steve Wright was presented with the 2021 Charles H. Percy Award for Public Service by the Alliance to Save Energy last month. He will retire from Chelan PUD at the end of the year.
There are two very important parts of the Alliance to Save Energy’s mission, both of which I find very appealing. One is a belief that saving energy through efficiency or conservation is a powerful force for good in the world. It is a least cost approach to making energy supply and demand work, translating to increased economic health. Economic health leads to improved competitiveness for industry, more jobs, and more disposable income for all our citizens, especially those at the lower end of the income spectrum. Energy efficiency also reduces our environmental footprint, translating to increased environmental health. It reduces air emissions and land and water use compared to other means necessary to make electricity supply and demand balance. Too often, public policy forces us to choose between supporting our economic and environmental goals. Saving energy is a bridge between a healthy economy and healthy environment.
But just as important in the Alliance’s mission is the commitment made by Charles Percy, one of the founders of the Alliance, to seek out bipartisan solutions. Bipartisanship is often described as a lost art. But if we look back at our American history, there have been many periods of partisan strife stretching back to the early days of our nation. We go through cycles of ups and downs, meaning bipartisanship requires a commitment of time and effort to succeed. It is toiling in the hot sun of the fields sowing the crop. But the results of bipartisan solutions are much more enduring and allow us to leave a legacy, as they do not suffer the whiplash effects of changes resulting from election seasons. The Alliance’s genetic commitment to bipartisanship reflects the importance of building bridges between Republicans and Democrats for the good of the country.
I think of the Alliance in this bridge metaphor. The Alliance is about building a bridge between our economic and environmental goals. The Alliance is about bridging the partisan divide. The Alliance is about building a bridge to prosperity for all our citizens.
I felt blessed to have started my career in energy efficiency doing program evaluation at the Bonneville Power Administration and then working on some of the first energy conservation supply curves that were to be used in resource planning. Ultimately, those supply curves were used in decision processes that led to the termination of construction of four nuclear power plants. It was a powerful moment for me seeing how energy conservation could provide a path to a better, more aligned future. I am grateful to the late Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), who led the charge to include consideration of energy conservation in resource planning through provisions included in the landmark Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act. That was the first time federal law required the inclusion of energy efficiency as a resource.
During that time and through the succeeding 40 years of my career, Ralph Cavanagh at the Natural Resources Defense Council has been an exemplary leader, motivator, intellectual, mentor and friend to me. Ralph consistently finds ways to cajole the electric utility community to do better with respect to acquiring energy efficiency MWs. He is consistently highly knowledgeable and creative about new ways to accomplish energy conservation that works in the competitive and evolving electricity markets. His greatest weapon, though, is his kindness. Ralph is the king of handing out platitudes and accolades while still challenging us to do better. As a result, myself and my colleagues in the industry always wanted to find ways to pursue Ralph’s dreams for us. I am grateful to Ralph for teaching me so much.
I want to acknowledge the many people who have spent their careers making energy efficiency a reality. I consider my early 20s as my well-spent youth when energy efficiency was my sole focus. I drifted off the path during the middle and later parts of my career into utility management. I want to recognize people I know like Mike Weedall, Skip Schick, and Tom Eckman who stayed true to the course and as a result had great, if less heralded, success. There were also great motivators like Carolyn Whitney, Steve Hickok, Walt Pollock, and many others.
I will finish with this thought. The success of energy efficiency has been built around a strong business case of meeting the needs of the power system in a least-cost manner. As the power grid changes in response to decarbonization, the products that are needed are changing as well. The most valuable products in the future from both economic and carbon-reducing perspectives will be carbon-free, flexible capacity. We are going to need to be as good or better at delivering demand response as we are with energy efficiency. We will need to continue to evolve to assure we continue to find the bridge between economic and environmental value.
Thanks to the Alliance to Save Energy for the incredibly valuable role it plays. Under the leadership of Paula Glover with the assistance of Kara O’Connell, tremendously dedicated staff, and an engaged and adept Board, I expect it will continue to thrive as the mission is as or more relevant today than at any time in the Alliance’s history.
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