Part I – Burning Man’s Got Nothing On This “World Changing Revolutionary Movement”
You know you’re at some kind of special conference when all the sessions seem to end way too soon and the eight hour agenda blasts by like the all star jam session at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame dinner.
But that’s the way it felt to the Creative Greenius as I covered the EcoMotion Palm Desert AB 811 Conference on Friday at the University of California Riverside Graduate Center. Admittedly I am a geek when it comes to AB 811 type programs that give people loans to put solar on their roof and add energy efficiency to their homes. And I tend to get a little fired up when I’m around people who actually make things happen instead of just pontificating about it. Imagine that…
EcoMotion’s President, Ted Flanigan made sure Friday was one of those rare days filled with all substance and no smoke, mirrors or dog & pony shows. What an exhilarating difference a well organized and smartly thought-out lineup can make. Just ask Los Angeles Lakers Basketball fans.
I was there to see the heavy hitters responsible for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to the party and that’s exactly who Flanigan delivered, like the Bill Graham of the policy world, orchestrating it all like an experienced eco empresario.
I hadn’t met Flanigan before this conference, knowing him only through his EcoMotion work with the Solar Santa Monica and Palm Deserts 30:30 program. I knew he was effective working with cities on energy and sustainability projects.
And I felt a kindred connection with him after reading about his experiences putting solar PV on his roof.
What I didn’t know was what a great dynamic force he is working on environmental issues and how much the positive energy he brings to the party rubs off on the people he’s working with. And if you don’t think that kind of enthusiasm and vibe makes a difference, than you don’t really understand how things get done in the Yes We Can era.
You need more than just great ideas, policy and planning – you also have to have the motivational chops to not just talk about change, but to actually effect it. Ted’s got them.
And the good news is that I didn’t just witness that spirit from Flanigan – I saw and heard it from all of the diverse AB 811 All Stars who descended on the desert on that unseasonably cool June Friday.
And what I most decidedly did NOT see was any of the petty politics, posturing or posterizing usually ruling the day when Democrats, Republicans, establishment businesses and environmentalists get together to talk issues.
Instead what I witnessed throughout the day in every presentation and at every breakout session I attended was smart people working together and sharing to accomplish mutual goals that were bigger than they were, bigger than their political profiles and bigger than any smaller differences between them. Nobody claimed to have the one right way or only answers.
And it was indeed my new favorite Republican, Jim Ferguson, the Palm Desert force of nature who knew something had to be done to seriously cut energy and greenhouse gas emissions before most people did, who started this day by dubbing the AB 811 programs to fund solar and energy efficiency improvements for property owners a “World changing revolutionary movement.”
A different spark set that revolutionary flame burning for each of its leaders. For Cisco Devries it was Al Gore scaring the bejeezus out of him with “An Inconvenient Truth.” And it was the seemingly impossible goal of cutting Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions by a full 80% by 2050 – as required by a referendum vote of the Berkeley citizens. Instead of intimidating Devries, he looked at it as just 2% a year.
No matter the motivation, these people get it. They have the sense of urgency that most government officials and business leaders today lack – and more importantly they have the wherewithal to do something with that urgency. In short they are not dicking around.
Pat Conlon sure didn’t sound like that was ever his style. He’s been on the ground running the City of Palm Desert’s Energy Independence Program since it launched as the Set To Save program in January of 2007 and he’s got his city on track to save the 30% of electricity and natural gas he’s in charge of reducing by 2011.
Pat took us through “A Day in the Life of Palm Desert’s AB 811 Administrator” and he wasn’t singing his own praises or self-promoting, but instead was being straight about what works and what doesn’t -based on actual experience.
For cities, counties and other agencies who will be administering their own AB 811 type programs down the line moving forward, he offered insights and advice only a small handful of AB 811’s Founding Fathers could deliver. Advice like “Watch out for sandbaggers and fraud when you start your programs.” In my upcoming posts in this exclusive series covering this conference I’ll offer more specifics from Conlon and all the other key presenters.
One of the most sincere and likable high achievers I’ve met in a long time is Rodney “Rod” Dole, the man with more impressive titles than anyone else I know. He’s the Sonoma County Treasurer. He’s also the County Tax Collector and the County Controller and the County Auditor. If you were looking to put together a consensus on a countywide AB 811 program in Sonoma, sitting across the table from Rod Dole would be a hell of a way to start.
He’s got all 9 cities in his Sonoma county lined up and working together to deliver $100 million in AB 911 funding through the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program. Dole’s passion for the program and for making it work for the people of his county are palpable. Better than that they’re effective. A lot of the work Rod Dole has already done is setting a valuable model for Howard Choy in L.A. County as he’s in the process of putting together his own countywide AB 811 program.
Another great model is being set outside of California’s borders by Boulder County, Colorado. Ann Livingston is the Sustainability Coordinator of the county and the woman in charge of their Climate Smart program. They’re already seeing tangible impacts from climate change in Boulder County and the need to cut emissions and use more renewable energy is taken seriously.
One thing Ann Livingston said that stuck with me was that a 15 year term loan results in half the finance cost and one quarter of the total cost for the loan compared to a 20 year term. That’s damn valuable information.
I also heard a lot of positive buzz about how quickly their program gets contractors paid. The case Livingston made for saving green jobs through the program which keeps solar installers in business and hiring extra help wasn’t lost on this audience. And she won high praise for the Climate Smart program’s practice of requiring participants to sign a utility bill release so their utility bills will be tracked to judge effectiveness.
Another person who really wowed me was Brian Gitt of Bevilacqua Knight who spoke about Federal Stimulus money available to AB 811 programs.
Gitt spent five years as Build It Green’s Executive Director and is widely respected for helping to build that organization into the highly credible green building powerhouse it has become. While there Gitt oversaw the development of GreenPoint Rated (GPR), which has become the dominant residential green building rating system in California.
Brian really knew the details of the latest stimulus developments and he specifically mentioned $11 million available to Los Angeles County to launch its AB 811 program for the 88 cities of L.A. I wish he had twice the amount of time allotted.
I really enjoyed getting the chance to meet and talk with Rod Dole and his wife of over three decades during the EcoMotion Welcome Reception the night before the conference. One key Rod stressed during his presentation was how much easier things would be if the energy bonds were tax exempt. He said Congressman Mike Thompson has been working on a bill to allow exactly that and it should soon have an HR number. If you’d like to see AB 811 programs get more affordable and widespread you’re going to need to lobby on behalf of that legislation.
Rod wasn’t the only person I met at this conference who I enjoyed talking with. One of the best times I had was during the branding and marketing session led by EcoMotions marketing ace, Virginia Nichols. She’s a sharp cookie and that 90 minute session went by like a blur.
Much more about that and more details to come about the Turn-Key Assessment Services breakout sessions and the rest of the day in Part II.