Women’s History Month: Spotlight on the VAEEC Team

March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, we’re doing a Q&A spotlight on the three women behind the scenes here at the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council.

Chelsea Harnish is the Executive Director of VAEEC, which serves as the voice for the energy efficiency industry in the Commonwealth. Since 2015, Chelsea oversees all VAEEC operations and strategic initiatives, including programs, policy, communications, membership, and events. With over a decade of Virginia energy policy experience, Chelsea regularly engages with decision-makers, partners, and members to advance energy efficiency policies and programs that will help grow the industry throughout the Commonwealth. Prior to joining the VAEEC, Chelsea worked for several environmental nonprofits, honing her skills in campaign planning, communication and advocating for clean energy policy initiatives. Chelsea lives in Richmond with her husband, three-year old daughter, and two cats.

Jessica Greene joined VAEEC in September 2016 and serves as the Outreach Director. Jessica has diverse experience in the environmental field, including the areas of campaign planning, consulting, education, energy policy, organizing, and research. Prior to joining the VAEEC team, she devoted her time to campaigns and strategies focused on implementing clean, renewable energy at both the federal and state levels. Jessica lives in Richmond with her husband and their dog, Evie (and their soon-to-arrive twin boys, coming this summer!).

Rebecca Hui joined VAEEC as Administrative Assistant in October 2018. She brings her passions for writing and data analysis to the non-profit sphere to promote energy efficiency in Virginia. Prior to joining VAEEC, Rebecca honed her skills in a variety of roles, from agriculture to customer service to IT and communications, and feels committed to making a difference through the work she does. She lives in Richmond with her husband and two daughters.

Why are you passionate about EE?

JESSICA: Not only is energy efficiency a simple way to reduce pollution, conserve resources, and improve indoor air quality, but it also saves consumers money. Furthermore, it isn’t a solution only available to those of higher economic status; you don’t have to invest a lot of money to see improvements. There are plenty of no-cost, low-cost measures that can make a noticeable difference in your living environment and utility bills.

CHELSEA: Energy efficiency is the lowest-cost resource- the kilowatt saved is a penny earned. Energy efficiency doesn’t get as much attention as other forms of clean energy but it can make a big impact with little to no upfront costs. Since 2015, energy efficiency has been getting more notice from decision-makers, particularly with the passage of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018. The opportunities to expand energy efficiency are boundless, so it is important that we make the most of it.

REBECCA: Coming from both the agriculture industry and IT, I’ve learned that the smallest changes can often make the biggest difference. Something as simple as thermal curtains or lightbulbs can reduce a family’s energy burden substantially, so it’s important to both the planet and its people that we share solutions that are attainable no matter where or how someone lives.

What brought you to the industry?

CHELSEA: I had been working on energy issues for over a decade when I joined VAEEC in 2015. My entire career has been spent in the nonprofit sector supporting a variety of clean energy technologies, including offshore wind and solar. I was excited to have the opportunity to lead an up and coming organization focusing on an industry that doesn’t get as much love as it should.

JESSICA: I majored in Environmental Science in college, which was really my first introduction to energy efficiency. However, it wasn’t until working on implementing the Clean Power Plan during a previous job that I realized the widespread, bipartisan benefits of energy efficiency.

REBECCA: It’s always been very important to me that the work that I do makes a quantifiable difference in the world around me, but joining VAEEC was really equal parts good timing and really good luck. Being able to learn about what energy efficiency really is and how it can help so many facets of people’s lives has been a huge opportunity for me, and the team is fantastic.

What are some of your hobbies?

CHELSEA: Right now, I don’t have very many hobbies because when I’m not leading my amazing team at VAEEC, I am chasing after my very active toddler at home. She has inherited my love for spending time outdoors, so you can usually find us outside at a local park or playground. I also enjoy running, reading, and traveling.

REBECCA: Like Chelsea, I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies as I have two daughters, ages 5 and 9, who constantly keep me on my toes. I am an avid baker thanks to my recent obsession with the Great British Baking Show, and I love reading, going to farmer’s markets, and travelling. We’re actually planning a family trip to Hong Kong in just a few months!

JESSICA: Traveling, concerts, and outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing are hands down my favorite hobbies. However, on a day-to-day basis, I enjoy walking my dog, Evie, through one of Richmond’s many parks alongside my husband or friends (and our soon-to-arrive twin boys, due this summer!)

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

REBECCA: My very first job in high school was working for a frozen yogurt stand at the mall, where we also served smoothies. I frequently ended up with fruit in my hair or on the ceiling because the blender lids would bust off mid-blend!

CHELSEA: I don’t consider this job weird but my most unique job was working in a full-scale public aquarium as an Aquarist right after college. It was my responsibility to feed all of the marine life, which included diving in a 55,000-gallon Pacific coral reef tank that was home to sharks, eels, and more.

JESSICA: I’ve held an assortment of jobs, but my most random one is probably being a residential and commercial painter for 10 years. It was a summer job I held from high school through graduate school.

What’s your favorite energy efficiency tip to share when people ask?

JESSICA: After moving into a 1940s house a few years ago, my number one tip is air sealing! You can start with small measures like using caulk and weather stripping to seal cracks. However, sealing our entire crawlspace made a noticeable difference in our house’s humidity levels. Our home is finally comfortable even in the middle of summer.

CHELSEA: I love my Nest Learning Thermostat! I like that it has learned our behaviors and that I can control it from my phone. Plus, collecting green leaves each month appeals to my competitive side.

REBECCA: Motion-sensitive light switches are amazing for my house. They save energy effortlessly and are much less expensive than smart home systems. Plus, no one has to say “turn off the lights!” every morning, which is a big win in my book.