Tag: vaeec members

Celebrating Black History Month in Energy Efficiency

Black history is American history, and while we celebrate this every February, the contributions of the Black community shine year round. This is particularly clear in the energy efficiency industry, where innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders have paved the way for adoption and advancement for centuries. Lewis Lattimer revolutionized indoor lighting in the 1800s by refining the filament used in light bulbs, turning them from an expensive luxury to an everyday necessity. David Crosthwaite filed more than 43 patents for heating and air conditioning equipment in the 1920s and 30s, and was the first Black man to become a fellow in the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers. And even more recently, Lisa P. Jackson served as the first Black administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009, prioritizing indoor air quality and climate change. 

As a broad coalition of industry leaders, the VAEEC sees the amazing work our Black colleagues do on a regular basis. To highlight their insights and voices, we asked four members to share their experiences in the energy efficiency field.   

Royce Brooks is a Member Service Specialist at Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) where she has been employed for the past 25 years. She manages the PJM Demand Response Program for ODEC’s member-owner distribution cooperatives to ensure they are properly registered in the PJM program. She also works with Demand Response and Energy Efficiency (DR/EE) and Strategic Electrification (SE) teams ensuring the successful implementation and verification of programs, supports ODEC’s 11 member-owner distribution cooperatives Load Research program, and helps plan, coordinate and facilitate member education efforts. Royce is a member of the Generation & Transmission (G&T) Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Systems Working Group.  She has a BS Degree in Business Administration from Virginia Union University.

McKenna Dunbar is a steadfast advocate for equitable clean energy transitions in frontline and rural communities, with a focus on the intricate intersections of environmental justice, green workforce development, and net-zero building policy initiatives. As the Building Electrification Staffer at Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, McKenna leads a team dedicated to advancing building electrification and reducing fossil fuel dependence. They are also a member of the VAEEC Board of Directors. 

Maggie Kelley Riggins is the Senior Program Manage at Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) and has devoted her career to developing innovative and holistic approaches to understanding and solving gnarly problems faced in the South around climate and energy. Maggie currently manages the building portfolio as SEEA, where she is laying the landscape for equity through climate and workforce in energy efficiency. She manages SEEA’s energy efficient building code and standards work and the building-oriented pilot project models for local governments to increase energy efficiency as a solution for residential, commercial, and municipal buildings. Maggie is leading the nation’s work in drawing direct connections from building energy codes and standards to racial justice, opening new pathways to achieve affordable, healthy, and sustainable housing for everyone.

Anitra Watson is the Energy Conservation Program Manager at Dominion Energy. In her role she oversees the implementation of the Income and Age Qualifying Programs for Virginia and North Carolina, the residential Manufactured Housing Program, and the residential and commercial Multifamily Programs for Virginia. She monitors program progress, quality controls, and financial oversight. Anitra assists with testimony prep, discovery development and provides strategic recommendations. She works closely with Implementation Vendors, the Weatherization Service Providers, and Independent Contractors to ensure successful program implementation. 


Why are you passionate about energy efficiency? 

Royce:  I am passionate about energy efficiency because it helps us save money. And who doesn’t like to save money, especially energy, the one thing we can’t live without! It’s a growing industry from lighting, appliances, renewable energy, beneficial electrification, and weatherization. Having efficient homes and buildings is the key to improving lifestyles.

Maggie: To me, energy efficiency is a way to support people in having a higher quality of life. Improving the energy efficiency of someone’s home or business directly relates to their economic opportunity, their health, and the resilience of their structures – all things that are very important in the Southeast. Getting to work in the energy efficiency and buildings sector affords me the opportunity to have a direct impact on the day to day lives of people and communities.

Anitra: Our health and our living conditions are intimately intertwined. If living conditions are not standard, it can weigh on the physical and mental stability of the individual. By providing energy efficiency we are improving living conditions, changing lives, and so much more. I am passionate because it provides a healthy environment for our customers and a sustainable approach in our industry. 

McKenna: My passion for energy efficiency stems from its unique position at the intersection of innovation, equity, and environmental stewardship. This sector represents a fertile ground for technological advancement, where creative solutions can significantly reduce energy consumption, lower utility bills, and contribute to a more sustainable planet. 

But beyond the technology, what really does excite me is the potential for energy efficiency to democratize access to clean, affordable energy. By focusing on how to make energy efficiency more accessible and affordable, we can ensure that the benefits of renewable energy and modernized infrastructure reach all communities, not just the affluent ones. This focus on equity ensures that our efforts in energy efficiency can help bridge the gap between different socioeconomic groups, making it a powerful tool for social change.


What brought you to the energy efficiency industry? 

Maggie: I am fortunate to have gone to school in the time where energy policy was a degree pathway. I have been interested in sustainability, climate change, and the role of communities since I was in high school and was able to study this further in college at Georgia Tech. The impact keeps me in the energy efficiency sector. Being able to directly support and empower communities, uplift community perspective and voice, and be a champion for better outcomes for folks in the Southeast is a privilege I get to experience every day in this sector.

Royce: When I came to work at Old Dominion Electric Cooperatives(ODEC), I started in IT. When an opportunity came available in Member Services to work with our member-owner distribution cooperatives and facilitate the Energy Efficiency programs, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about the energy side of the business.

McKenna: My journey into the energy efficiency industry was sparked by my work in building electrification and workforce development in the solar industry. Initially, I was fascinated by the technical aspects of how buildings could be transformed to use energy more cleanly and efficiently. This work opened my eyes to the broader implications of energy use in our daily lives and the potential for systemic change through smarter energy practices. As I delved deeper into this field, I became increasingly aware of the critical role that energy efficiency plays in combating climate change, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and promoting a healthier environment.

The more I learned, the more I recognized the interdisciplinary nature of the challenge. It was not just about engineering and advocating for better systems but also about understanding the economic incentives for adoption, the regulatory environment, and the social impact of energy policies. This complexity made the field incredibly appealing to me, as it offered the chance to engage with a variety of stakeholders, from policymakers and business leaders to community organizers and homeowners.

Furthermore, the equity aspect of energy efficiency deeply resonated with me. I saw how targeted efficiency improvements could make a significant difference in low-income communities, often the most affected by high energy costs and pollution. This realization solidified my commitment to the sector, as I wanted to contribute to making energy efficiency solutions accessible and beneficial to all, regardless of their economic status. It’s a sector where I believe my efforts can contribute to meaningful, positive changes in the world, making it an endlessly inspiring field to be a part of.

Anitra: In my former role working with Home Revitalization Programs, I would refer my clients to the Energy Conservation Program once the Home Revitalization was completed. This became part of my program process. So, when the opportunity became available, I embraced it. I saw the impacts of energy efficiency and how small changes made a difference. 


What do you think the biggest challenges and opportunities are for Black workers entering the field? 

McKenna: For Black professionals entering the energy efficiency field, navigating the landscape comes with its own set of unique challenges and opportunities. A significant challenge many face, including myself, is overcoming systemic barriers. One of the most pressing issues is underrepresentation, which complicates finding mentorship and role models. This lack of representation can make it harder to navigate the industry and find the support needed to thrive.

On the other hand, the energy efficiency (EE) industry is brimming with potential, particularly as it begins to prioritize diversity, equity, and environmental justice. This shift is opening up avenues for Black professionals to take the lead and drive innovation. There’s a real chance here to develop sustainable energy solutions, policies, and businesses that not only improve the state as a whole but also specifically uplift communities that are disproportionately affected by energy challenges—like rural, BIPOC, and low-income areas (comprised of leaders who encompass these identities). The industry’s push towards embracing new technologies and tackling climate issues also creates a rich environment for entrepreneurial ventures and innovative projects.

What’s encouraging is the emergence of a support network dedicated to breaking down these systemic barriers and enhancing the representation of Black professionals in the field. However, it’s important to recognize that not all support efforts are created equal. Just because something looks like a bird and sounds like a bird, does not a bird make. True, justice-oriented support will be the key in providing meaningful mentorship, specialized training, and broader career opportunities for Black professionals in the EE industry.

Royce: The biggest challenge is identity. We need to see more African Americans working and operating in their own communities. 

Anitra: I think the biggest challenge for any worker entering the field is transparency on how to get started, and where to go for resources. 

Maggie: One of the largest challenges I faced was being able to see myself in a role. There are some incredible Black trailblazers in this industry, many of which are now being celebrated, honored, and valued at the federal level. When I came into the industry though, there were fewer individuals who were championing this space, and getting the recognition they deserved in doing so. I’m grateful to have the platforms I have, and to elevate voices of other Black leaders, so that younger Black folks and those who may want to transition to this space see that there is room for them here.


What is one thing about the industry you would like to see change? How can other groups help make that change? 

Anitra: I would like to see workforce development opportunities for General Contractors in Energy Efficiency. By providing the opportunity to bridge the gap with licensed and insured contractors, we are paving the way for more experts working in the industry. Other groups can help make the change by design thinking, creating a seamless way to ensure opportunities through education and certification are met and General Contractors are incentivized with work opportunities upon certification completion.

Royce:  I would like the industry to recruit from HBCUs, community colleges, and high schools to inform and educate people about the opportunities in the industry.  It’s an evolving industry with never ending opportunities and there is so much to learn. 

Maggie: I love the shift that is happening for investing in and working alongside communities who have been historically intentionally discriminated against, whether that is through the Justice40 lens or from other equity commitments or companies and organizations. There is so much further to go to meaningfully engage and support communities across the country to realize a clean energy and energy efficient future, though. One thing organizations and companies could do that I would love to see improved is paying people for their time. Community expertise is just as important, if not more important at times, as technical expertise. To do this work well, we need to ensure that when we write community groups, organizations, or representatives into our plans, that we also include them in our budgets.

McKenna: A pivotal shift I envision for the industry revolves around enhancing the inclusivity and justice orientation of entities within the energy efficiency (EE) workforce, ensuring they genuinely reflect the communities they serve. The challenge lies in the distribution of statewide formula funding from federal initiatives, which historically has favored organizations that, intentionally or not, have maintained a monopoly, sidelining partners from disinvested and historically disenfranchised communities. To foster a more equitable distribution, a concerted effort from all stakeholders is imperative. Federal and state agencies could revise funding criteria to prioritize inclusivity and collaboration. Meanwhile, industry leaders and funding bodies should facilitate platforms for dialogue and partnership, ensuring environmental justice and DEIJ-rooted community-based organizations are not just participants but leaders in shaping and implementing EE initiatives. This approach not only democratizes energy efficiency efforts but also amplifies their impact across the commonwealth, fostering a more inclusive and just energy transition.


What’s your favorite EE tip? 

McKenna: One of the most effective EE tips I can offer is to consider installing a heat pump in your home. Heat pumps are a versatile and efficient solution for both heating and cooling, operating on the principle of transferring heat rather than generating it, which makes them incredibly energy-efficient. This means they can really help lower your energy bills and cut down on your carbon footprint. They’re good for both heating and cooling, adapting well to different climates, so you stay comfortable all year round. I encourage people to  get an energy audit done to assess whether this technology is a right fit for their home! 

Anitra: Change your filters, so your HVAC system does not work harder to keep you comfortable.

Maggie: My favorite EE tip is that small things add up. Weather stripping, changing out light bulbs, making sure your attic insulation is up to par, etc. can make huge differences in not just energy bills, but also the comfort and health of your space!

Royce: Cooking on the grill on warm days!! Good food and fun!!


What advice would you give to another member of the Black community when entering the field? 

Maggie: I advise everyone to reach out to people in the industry that inspire you. Shoot your shot, as they say. There are so many incredible people who would be more than willing to connect with you, serve as mentors, and see you shine in this industry. This doesn’t have to be a lonely experience – we want to help you!

Royce: The industry is evolving so quickly and there is so much to learn, and the industry provides job security and stability. I have worked in the industry for 25 years and I continue to grow and develop.

McKenna: Keep believing in the heart of the mission, no matter what fluff you see surrounding you. The mission can be personal. For me, I believe energy efficiency is an important tool in the clean energy transition toolbox. It means that this tool has the collective power of alleviating and mitigating the suffering of millions across the country, much less hundreds of thousands in the Commonwealth. 

It means that in your own unique way, the work you are engaged in means something to someone out there. Stay motivated by the difference your contributions make, however big or small, knowing that each step forward is a stride towards a justice-oriented world. Believe in your voice and ask yourself and your collaborators, what is our vision if we cease to believe in the mission?

Anitra: The work in this field changes lives, the assistance you provide will have an impact on the lives of others.


What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had? 

Anitra: When I was working in the field, I spent the day with my Energy Auditor. We visited a home that applied for the Department of Social Services Crisis program, they had no heat. When we arrived at the home, the father replaced the flue on the wood stove with a dryer vent hose. He created a fire in the wood stove using gasoline. The gas containers were between the wall and the back of the wood stove.  Due to age, the entire unit was glowing. I am so glad we were able to prevent a bad situation escalating to something worse.

McKenna: Reflecting on the most unconventional role I’ve had, working as a mortician’s assistant stands out. This role, while initially seeming “weird,” offered profound insights into the cycles of life and death, teaching me invaluable lessons about authenticity and purpose. The experiences gained in this position- observing the finality of life and the importance of living with intention—have profoundly influenced my approach to social impact work, especially in areas like energy justice and climate mental health. It underscored the significance of embracing each day with purpose and has guided my career trajectory in meaningful ways.

Royce: The weirdest job I ever did was to go out in the field to probe a meter.

Maggie: I thankfully haven’t had many weird jobs, but in high school I volunteered in school collecting people’s old shoes for recycling. Very smelly work!

Dominion Energy Launches Smart Home Program

A new program launched by Dominion Energy provides a kit of smart home technology with an instant rebate to eligible customers in Virginia.

New Smart Home technology helps customers save energy and be more aware of the electric use in their home. To help customers adopt this new technology, Dominion Energy is offering eligible customers in Virginia as well as North Carolina rebates on smart home products.

The Smart Home program gives customers the opportunity to purchase a smart home kit on the program website, smarthome.domsavings.com, with an instant $25 rebate. The base kit includes a Kasa Smart Plug with Energy Monitoring, two Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Minis, the Philips Hue Smart White Ambiance LED Starter Kit and a Philips Hue Motion Sensor.

Customers can enhance their smart home setup by adding an ecobee Smart Thermostat ($50 rebate) or Sense Home Energy Monitor ($70 rebate) to their kit purchase, and each is available with an additional instant rebate. The Sense Energy Monitor must be installed in your electric panel by a licensed electrician.

As such, electricians as well as solar installers with on-staff licensed electricians can become participating contractors with Dominion’s Smart Home Program. Participating contractors benefit from the program in many ways including getting listed on Dominion’s website and access to free training.  To learn more about becoming a participating contractor including the eligibility requirements, visit www.dom-vendor.com.

With integration between smart home devices and a smartphone and / or voice assistant, customers will have increased control over their home’s energy use, even remotely. Customers will have the ability to put your devices on a schedule, allow devices to perform energy-efficient actions on their own, and connect to other smart technologies.

Learn more about how the program helps customers leverage integrated energy-efficient smart home products to reduce and manage a home’s energy consumption. Visit smarthome.domsavings.com for more information. Terms and Conditions and eligibility requirements apply. Subject to change at any time.