By Cary Weiner
Clean energy has been deployed rapidly across the country over the last decade-plus, and uptake has been supercharged by the recent passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act. With incentives from that Act working in conjunction with growing state, local, and utility goals for carbon-free energy, it’s tempting to think of a 100% clean energy future as a foregone conclusion.
To be sure, large, utility-scale (and utility-driven) clean energy projects are helping move the clean energy needle forward. Battery technology required to “firm up” variable sources like solar and wind is evolving rapidly. Cold-climate heat pumps are making fuel switching from gas and propane to electricity a real possibility, even in cold climates. Electric vehicles are in demand, with infrastructure being built to ease range anxiety and decrease charge times. But these developments are only half of the story.
The real richness behind the clean energy movement comes into the picture when it interfaces with communities to address complex problems. How do we ensure that certain communities and community members aren’t left behind? How do we care for those working in industries that will be negatively impacted by a move away from fossil fuels? How can we minimize land use and resource impacts of clean energy systems? How do we balance the societal response needed to address the climate crisis with individual and local decision-making processes?
As Brendle Group’s new program manager for Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy Program, I’m proud to say that we’re empowering communities to answer questions like these (and many more) for themselves. Partners in Energy provides planning and implementation support to local governments and other entities that want to set and achieve their own vision for energy efficiency, renewable energy, electrification, and/or electric mobility. The idea is that Xcel Energy can move toward its own broad, aggressive carbon-free energy goals while local stakeholders guide decisions that maximize community benefits. Just as one community might want to prioritize reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions, others may prioritize low-income access to energy resources or saving money on energy expenses. Communicating priorities across the community and Xcel Energy is a win-win for a clean energy future.
And it’s not just this utility and this program that work at the intersection of energy and community. Having done a lot of energy work in rural areas, I can say that rural electric cooperatives can serve as models of community empowerment through board member elections and open meetings. Similarly, municipal electric utilities are guided by democratically elected officials. As a result, clean energy innovations like community solar gardens, agricultural energy programs, and on-bill financing have been developed to be responsive to member-owners and citizens.
With the framework for an accelerated clean energy transition now in place, much of the hard work that remains centers on executing it appropriately and effectively in diverse community contexts. To become reality, a carbon-free energy future requires a household-by-household, business-by-business, and community-by-community approach that can result from thoughtful and strategic partnerships between utilities and those they serve.
About the Author – Cary has nearly 15 years of experience leading and managing strategic organizational initiatives and projects, with an emphasis on energy, sustainability, and community engagement. He brings a thoughtful, strategic, and analytical approach to working with clients while also developing respectful and positive relationships to achieve shared outcomes.
With experience in local government energy planning, higher education, state government budget and policy analysis, community engagement, and organizational leadership, Cary is a vital asset to projects. Cary is also well regarded for his extensive experience working with rural communities on energy issues and has served as an expert witness for the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. His unique background at the intersection of budgeting, policy, and sustainable innovation supports clients in achieving aggressive implementation goals.
At Brendle Group, Cary is primarily responsible for managing and supporting electric utility customers in program design and delivery. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with family in Northern Colorado, running, hiking, playing hockey, meditating, and birdwatching.