Carol Brzozowski 2017-06-13 18:34:36
When Margie Harris, Energy Trust of Oregon’s executive director, was named the 2016 Champion of Energy Efficiency in Buildings for her “outstanding achievement and leadership in the energy efficiency field” by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), it was a fitting culmination to her years of achievement in energy efficiency. The nonprofit organization helps residential, business, and public and nonprofit utility ratepayers use less energy, save on energy costs, and move to renewable resources. Harris’ leadership has played a pivotal role in the Northwest’s “impressive clean energy culture,” notes ACEEE executive director Steve Nadel. Harris, the first staff member hired by Energy Trust in 2001, grew an organization that now serves 1.5 million electric and natural gas utility customers in Oregon and southwest Washington, transforming more than half a million homes and businesses with energy efficiency and renewable power improvements, including an efficiency savings of 548 average megawatts of electricity, 45 million annual therms of natural gas, and 119 aMW of renewable energy generation. Energy Trust has leveraged the talents of and created work opportunities for more than 2,500 people in trades serving as the interface between customers and projects: architects, engineers, and contractors in areas such as HVAC and lighting, notes Harris. Oregon is perennially in ACEEE’s top five rankings for energy efficiency, and Energy Trust under Harris’ leadership is a driving factor, notes Debbie Kitchin, president of Energy Trust’s board of directors. Significant benefits have been realized by the commercial sector, for which the organization has worked on initiatives including efficient lighting, HVAC, operations and maintenance, custom capital improvements, and solar energy. Harris acknowledges a culture in the Pacific Northwest that embraces energy efficiency. “Many people visit us and want to emulate our model,” she says, adding it’s based on a policy framework and collaboration. “We need leaders in this field and more attention focused on these efforts, especially in light of climate change,” she says. What She Does Day to Day Harris recently retired from her post, but not from promoting clean energy. At Energy Trust of Oregon, Harris spent her days connecting people with ideas while managing the organization. “Any director’s role should be to look ahead, strategize, anticipate opportunities, and be ready for them,” she says. “That requires innovation and engagement with various marketplace actors.” In the future, Harris looks to mentor young people in the field, especially women and has an eye to become an interviewer for documentary films. What Led Her to This Line of Work As a University of Michigan freshwoman, Harris took part in the first Earth Day celebration. “It opened my eyes to the opportunities and needs to manage our natural resources differently, to engage with the populace about big issues,” she notes. “Energy caught my attention. I’ve stayed with it all of these years because of its multiple dimensions and the staying power of the work we do.” Harris earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources from the University. Her leadership of Energy Trust drew on experience in energy policy and organizational development acquired at positions with the Oregon Department of Energy, City of Portland, Arthur Young and Company, and Portland’s regional transit agency, TriMet. What She Likes Best About Her Work “Our work is very tangible and delivers lasting benefits to many people,” says Harris of her greatest work satisfaction. “You can tour Oregon and see 600,000 plus sites we have served where people are using energy differently, managing energy use, and saving money. We have saved program participants more than $5.6 billion over time. We’ve added $4.8 billion to the Oregon economy. That’s creating jobs, paying wages, and allowing businesses and residential customers to redirect what were once energy dollars to other priorities in their business or their lives.” Her Biggest Challenge Harris says her challenges are two-fold. “The professional one is trying to download 15 years of knowledge that’s largely in my head,” she says, adding that investing in the successful transition of Michael Colgrove into the executive director’s position is a high priority for her. Her personal challenge figuring out how she will apply her interests and skills in continuing the role she’s embraced as an agent of change. DE A frequent contributor to Forester publications, Carol Brzozowski writes about topics related to energy and technology.
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