Call them the advance guard in our evolving clean energy revolution. One plays Captain Kilowatt on his home turf in Idaho. Another heads Washington's largest community energy efficiency program. A third skirted a career in nuclear energy to become an energy efficiency advisor at Washington's largest utility. The fourth uses affordable, clean energy to tackle joblessness and environmental and social justice issues.
Meet Ben Otto with the Idaho Conservation League, Tara Anderson with Sustainable Works, Gus Takala with Puget Sound Energy and Jessica Finn Coven of Climate Solutions. These NW Energy Coalition’s “4 Under Forty” award winners were honored recently at a Bullitt Center ceremony.
The NW Energy Coalition has been promoting clean energy policy with regional utilities, regulators and policymakers for 30-plus years. The "4 Under Forty" awards are meant to inspire others to take up the clean, affordable energy mantle. This year’s honorees represent a new environmental movement, one that incorporates conservation, climate and utility activism, and sustainable jobs for sustainable communities. For these young leaders, the clean energy future is now.
Tara Anderson, Director, Sustainable Works
For Tara Anderson, energy efficiency is the blue plate special with renewables — wind, solar, geothermal — as the tangy low-carb desert. Efficiency is the fastest route to a clean energy future. “It's the most affordable energy force we have,” she says. Seal a drafty home — 34 percent of all energy leaks through unweatherized floors, walls and ceilings — and you've saved an awful lot of power. Seal those leaks with locally trained workers and you've created jobs, and sustainable communities.
When federal recovery act funds flowed to Sustainable Works (SW) in the retrofit ramp up of 2009, the organization trained hundreds of locals for quality, living wage jobs. When federal funds dried up, state and foundation money followed, allowing SW-trained workers to carry on and retrofit more than 3,000 homes. “There's a lot of chatter about the need to deliver cost effective energy efficiency,” says Anderson. “But how we define ‘cost effective’ is very important. If it comes at the expense of labor to deliver those services, then we won't be able to maintain the quality people needed to do the high volume of work required to make a real dent in the marketplace.”
Anderson calls herself a steward of the triple bottom line: “By which I mean environmental equity and economics as it applies to quality jobs.” Addressing daunting problems such as climate change and inequality, says Anderson, takes concerted effort. “You can't fix one without addressing the others.” (SW also helps homeowners and renters secure low cost loans and utility rebates. Its Save Energy Today program offers a $1400 retrofit for just $150.)
Jessica Finn Coven, State Director, Climate Solutions
Climate Solutions, a research and advocacy organization, has been at the forefront of Northwest climate change policy. As its director for the past six years, so has Jessica Finn Coven. According to her bio — she doesn't toot her own horn very loudly — Finn Coven has been on the leading edge of nearly every clean and affordable energy cause in Washington State: from helping workers craft an agreement to shut down Centralia’s TransAlta coal plant to collaborating with the Washington BlueGreen Alliance in support of lower carbon fuels and smarter climate policy.
She acknowledges few legislative gains this year but finds cause for optimism in Governor Jay Inslee's insistence that "climate change is a top priority." His executive order of April set up a Carbon Emission Reduction Task Force to study various climate change-related actions, such as requiring the state Department of Commerce to deploy new renewables and improve the energy performance of public and private buildings
She also finds room for hope in British Columbia's carbon tax, the most significant such tax in the Western hemisphere. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted. If Olympia legislators with a grasp of climate change take notice, it's the way to go. Finally, California successfully defended its clean fuel economy standards against a fossil fuel industry attack; the Washington state senate hosted California leaders to learn more about their tactics.
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