Champions of Change Blog

  • Saving our Future by Changing the Way We Think About Energy

    Drew Sloan

    Drew Sloan is being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change.

    It is a true and humbling honor to be named a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy & Climate Security Champion of Change, because the way the world engages with its energy sources in the years to come will define the life of each and every one of this planet’s inhabitants.

    My experiences as an Army officer offered a clear view of the interconnections between energy – be it possession, pursuit, or production – and conflict. That view was not shaped by my time in Iraq, where some have argued American involvement was based largely on attempting to secure and safeguard energy resources. Instead, my views were shaped by the physical darkness in Afghanistan – the kind of pitch-black darkness found only in a night sky with no TVs or blinking alarm clocks to distract. In Afghanistan I lived in a region with no lights to let students study at night and no reliable power to keep shops open past sunset. It was a land locked in conflict, without energy, but filled with people deeply desiring a better life.

    There is no doubt that energy access makes our lives better. It allows businesses to stay open past dark and children to study after dinner. Energy powers the modern world and modern life. People aspire to the opportunities energy provides, and rightly so – it is perhaps the greatest of all enablers and everyone deserves access.

    As such, our challenge is not to restrict access to energy, but to enable it in a responsible manner. In the developing world this means focusing on sourcing energy in the cleanest ways possible, because the pursuit and production of energy is not without costs. CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have already caused extensive damage to the world’s ecosystems. This damage is the direct result of 75 percent of the world’s population obtaining energy from fossil fuels. These negative effects on our climate will only escalate if the remaining 25 percent currently living without seek access to energy in the same way. This challenge to empower the developing world to source its burgeoning energy needs through clean sources is crucially important.

    Although the developing world is important, developed nations must lead the way. It is no secret that those of us in the developed world use a lot of energy – and we also waste much of that energy. This lifestyle must change. To enable that change, my software company Opower works with utilities to give customers better insight into their energy usage – insight that leads to smarter, more productive energy decisions without sacrificing quality of life. Currently communicated to more than eighteen million homes worldwide, Opower’s efforts encouraging people to make better, more efficient energy choices has saved over three terawatt hours (TWh) of energy – roughly the equivalent of the combined power needs of both Salt Lake City and St. Louis for a year – all through the empowerment of the collective to make wiser energy choices.

    The parts we all play in managing our energy use in the years to come will determine the future we will share together. It is a simple truth, but a powerful challenge.

    Drew Sloan is a former U.S. Army officer and currently works as a Sales Executive for the energy efficiency software company Opower and is also a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.

  • Energy Independence, Military Readiness, and Economic Growth: Clean Energy Leads to National Security

    Dave Belote

    Dave Belote is being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change.

    I’ve been blessed with two exciting and fulfilling careers: first as a fighter pilot, Battlefield Airman, and base commander; and now as a clean energy developer and advocate. While the two may seem unrelated, each has served the same goal – to ensure a long and prosperous future for the country I love. My lifelong commitment to national security has taught me that keeping our country safe will require more than military readiness. I’m convinced that energy independence and economic growth are equally important to our nation’s long-term prosperity. Renewable energy is at the nexus of the three.

    When I moved to Nevada in 2008 to become the installation commander for Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, and the Nevada Test and Training Range, I knew almost nothing about clean energy development. After taking command, I learned quickly. I inherited the then-largest solar photovoltaic array on the continent, a 14-megawatt system that produced more than 25 percent of Nellis’s electricity and saved roughly $83,000 per month in energy costs during my tenure. I was also asked to help site a 110-megawatt solar tower near Tonopah, NV – not an easy task, as we had to protect sophisticated test range capabilities in the vicinity. With the help of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory and its cutting-edge analysis, we found a win-win site for both the military and the solar company, allowing the project to move forward. 

    The Tonopah project was not unique in its siting challenges. Siting projects near Department of Defense (DoD) facilities requires consideration of impacts on radar systems, training procedures, and test facilities. Our Nevada solution became a model and led me back to the Pentagon as a civilian, where I created the DoD Siting Clearinghouse to review energy projects nationwide and promote mission-compatible development on and around military facilities. From industry we learned how renewable energy can drive a local economy by creating construction jobs, providing income for rural landowners, and increasing county tax revenues. Working with scientists and engineers, we determined how close to various military facilities we could place turbines and solar systems. We actively engaged developers and found innovative, cooperative solutions. To date the Clearinghouse has approved more than 96 percent of the requests it has received, honoring landowner rights and entrepreneurial drive while protecting the DoD’s mission.

    My path has taken me to the private sector, where I am developing the types of projects I would have appreciated as a base commander – total energy surety solutions combining on-site generation, storage, and smart grid software. Apex Clean Energy has empowered me to design wind and solar energy projects specifically for military customers. At the same time, I am able to tackle larger issues by working with advocacy groups like the American Council on Renewable Energy, the Association of Defense Communities, Environmental Entrepreneurs, and the Truman Project on National Security.

    The future of clean energy in our country is bright, but there is much more we can do. We need to amend the current tax structure to level the financial playing field, and I believe a refundable tax credit will bring us one step closer to cheaper capital through Master Limited Partnerships. I applaud the President’s goal of 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands, but I believe we need a comprehensive review of military missions on federal lands and the outer continental shelf in order to achieve it. I firmly believe we can find the proper balance of military readiness and energy independence, and that the renewable energy facilities we build will provide jobs and revenues to support local services, creating true national security for our country.

    Dave Belote, Vice President for Federal Business at Apex Clean Energy, works to create mission-compatible renewable energy solutions for military installations, public lands, and the outer continental shelf. 

  • A Better Way

    Avi Jacobson

    Avi Jacobson is being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change.

    My career in clean energy began with silence.

    The most disruptive sound on our Special Operations Task Force’s compound in Iraq was not the occasional mortar attack. It was not the controlled detonation of bombs, shells, and assorted unexploded items that were found on the old battleground that was our home. It was not the firing range or the fighter jets on full afterburner overhead.

    The most disruptive sound on our secure compound was deafening silence: the sudden quiet of our diesel generator being overloaded and shutting down during the hottest part of the desert summer day. Critical communications systems were running on emergency backup batteries or not running at all. The lack of energy planning directly impacted our ability to operate.

    Even when the generators ran smoothly, the reliance on diesel fuel detracted from our combat readiness. Maintaining a steady fuel supply depended on expensive airlifts and dangerous truck convoys. The dollar costs of sustaining such a complicated supply chain are high. The cost in lives of those wounded or killed on resupply missions is painful to contemplate. The burden of having to dedicate so much of our fighting force to convoy security is maddening.

    Beyond power considerations, burning trash in open pits for most of the war not only subjected our troops to harmful toxins but also produced thick smoke, reducing runway visibility. This was yet another way resource management choices directly impacted the battlefield. Another was the large number of troops evacuated due to back and knee injuries from carrying heavy loads, often including batteries.

    There had to be a better way and I wanted to find it.

    For the military in Afghanistan and Iraq, an unconventional battlefield with no clear battlefront undermined the assumptions underlying our energy planning, as did the unexpected need to maintain and operate temporary forward operating bases for extended periods of time. And here at home, increased competition for resources as globalization lifts billions out of poverty, aging energy infrastructure, and the increasing risks of climate change are all forcing us to face the costs of our current energy system.

    Through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, the military is making great strides in improving energy management in deployed locations. Similarly, stateside military bases are diversifying their power sources and integrating more local renewable energy to ensure resiliency in the face of disaster.

    At the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, I am working diligently to solve these society-wide problems of resource management. We have grown the Commission’s Sustainable Energy Program into a clearinghouse of information that benefits everyone from the earliest-stage Cleantech Open competitors to sophisticated Energy Services Companies. Our bond financing tools were recognized at the 2013 Better Buildings Summit as a model of public-private partnerships.

    The Commission’s focus is on developing and facilitating financing models that enable clean energy technology deployment. We realize that sustainable energy requires a sustainable business model and access to capital. With a focus on the market’s demands, the Commission is driving scalable solutions for a clean energy economy.

    Successes belong to your troops; failures are your own. This axiom of leadership was repeated throughout my training as an officer in the United States Air Force. It is especially poignant as I am being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change. The accomplishments for which I am being recognized – whether supporting Special Operations Forces in Iraq or facilitating the financing and deployment of clean energy projects here at home – have truly been team efforts.

    Avi Jacobson is the Senior Sustainable Energy Coordinator at the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.

  • Greatest Generation Grandparents Inspired My Passion for Energy Efficiency

    Andrea Marr

    Andrea Marr is being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change.

    My grandparents were green before green was trendy. They had a solar hot water heater on the roof of their home and a garden where they grew most of their vegetables. My grandfather built a sunroom attached to the house, and during winters in Colorado they had only to crack the door of the sun room and warm air heated by the sun would flow into the living room. They lived in a suburb very much on the grid, but embraced self-sufficiency as much as they could. The modifications they made to their home and the way they lived saved them money, utilized less energy, and improved their quality of life.

    I grew up instilled with this notion of conservation, but I have more in common with my grandparents than that. They both served in the Navy during World War II – my grandmother as a yeoman, my grandfather as a pilot. Like them, I wanted to serve my country; eventually I too joined the Navy.

    I loved the military and completed five years of service before retiring, confident there was another way I could contribute to our great nation and have an impact: by promoting clean energy.

    We stand at an incredible moment for clean energy. Solar is on the verge of grid parity – by 2017, the cost of solar in the U.S. will be truly competitive. Wind energy has the capacity to power over 15 million homes and that number is rapidly increasing. But we also have a huge opportunity to reduce the amount that we consume, opting for smart technologies and common sense approaches to energy reduction. As a nation, we have the chance to emulate my grandparents by using less energy and saving money while improving our lives.

    In the last year my work has focused largely on educational facilities, from middle schools to universities. I’ve discovered auditoriums with the lights and air conditioning left on for the entire summer following graduation. I’ve found classrooms where kids are getting less fresh air than recommended and places where the A/C is left on high but doesn’t work properly and never actually cools a room.

    There is nothing political about energy efficiency. There is nothing overwhelmingly complex or risky about implementing measures that improve our homes and offices and create safer, more productive environments. Nationally we spend $32 billion dollars heating hot water in our homes; the installation of solar hot water heating alone could reduce the average household’s energy expenditure by half. It’s estimated that commercial office buildings waste 30% of all the energy they consume. That equates to energy we can avoid buying on the world oil market, savings in our pockets, and better environments in which to live.

    It’s not about being green for green’s sake. It’s about the future we want to create and the opportunity to exercise American leadership to make us self-sufficient in the best sense of word – in a way my Greatest Generation grandparents would respect.

    Andrea Marr is a professional engineer and energy efficiency expert in California.  She is also a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. 

  • In Honor of an Inspiring Group of Volunteers

    Ginny Lewis

    Ginny was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness. 

    Being selected as a White House Champion for Change is deeply humbling and a true honor, but it is impossible for me to accept this award without acknowledging the dedicated and inspiring people I am privileged to work with throughout the entire state of Texas. The nature and demands of community preparedness require a strong team of individuals who work together to ensure the safety of our communities, cities, regions and states when disaster strikes.

    These individuals all come together to assist elected officials, community leaders and first responders whenever they are needed. Throughout the past eight years, I have had the privilege of working with a team of these dedicated volunteers and emergency preparedness professionals through the Texas Citizen Corps Program. It is on behalf of these dedicated individuals that I accept this award.

    In my professional capacity, I work with 24 regional councils representing 254 counties and more than 268,000 square miles collaborating to enhance service and program delivery across the state of Texas. Due to her size, topography, diverse population and vast geography, coordinating effective and efficient programs and services can present a unique set of challenges. As a solution, Texas adopted a regional approach for preparing communities utilizing 24 regional councils of government—voluntary associations of local governments formed under Texas law to assess problems, planning needs, and the coordination of services that cross the boundaries of individual communities.

    In Texas, Citizen Corps is one of the regional programs assisting communities to plan and prepare for disasters together to make their families, homes, and communities safer. The program is comprised of unbelievably dedicated and selfless individuals all with a heart to serve their neighbors. The members of Texas Citizen Corps are volunteers of all skill levels and backgrounds who come together to provide support to local fire departments, law enforcement officials, emergency medical service providers, and any community public health needs that may arise. Together we have faced wide-ranging threats of natural and mad-made events including: hurricanes, winter storms, significant flooding events, tornadoes, devastating wildfires, droughts, sand storms, extreme heat, and manmade hazards such as the recent events in West, Texas and Citizen Corps teams have been an integral part of community resilience.

    The importance of communities coming together to create a plan for, respond to, and recover from any event affecting a group of people in a safe and organized manner cannot be underestimated. It is for precisely this reason that I feel so honored to work with a team whose mission is to assist regions and communities with those efforts.

    To those volunteers who give tirelessly of themselves at the call of your communities, this award belongs to you. I hope you will accept my most sincere gratitude for standing by the citizens of Texas and this great nation in times of need. It is impossible to express how truly blessed we are by your willingness to serve.

    Ginny Lewis is the Associate Director and General Counsel for the Texas Association of Regional Councils in Austin, Texas (TARC).  

  • Grading and Preparing Chinatown

    Norman Fong

    Norman was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness. 

    Growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, my family and I faced many challenges related to poverty and race.  As a teenager, I had a lot of energy but didn’t always know how to channel it.  I could have easily taken a more destructive path, but through a summer jobs program (EOC) at a Chinatown settlement house and church, I was provided with positive and constructive alternatives.  This settlement house was working to preserve 186 units of housing at the corner of Stockton and Sacramento Streets—Mei Lun Yuen Apartments—which would become the first low income redevelopment project in Chinatown.  I thought every church did this type of social advocacy work, which inspired me to become a pastor and influence community development in the future.

    Returning home from school one afternoon my mother handed me a letter she had received.  It was an eviction notice saying we would have to vacate in 30 days. Luckily, a member of the settlement house helped us find other housing.  I was also present at the eviction of elderly tenants from the International Hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown, protesting their forced removal from their homes.  Today, at Chinatown Community Development Center we continue to fight morally indefensible evictions of seniors, disabled and low income residents, many who have lived in their homes for decades.  For many residents in the San Francisco community and throughout the nation, the fear of not having a place to live is a very real and pressing concern.  To this day, I still remember the look of fear in my mother’s eyes as we faced eviction and possible homelessness.  As Executive Director at Chinatown CDC, I work to ensure that my family’s experience will never happen to anyone again, and to eradicate those feelings of dread, despair, and hopelessness from the Chinatown community forever.  Chinatown CDC continues to build and rehabilitate affordable housing and we currently have about 2300 units of housing in our portfolio to date.

    Shortly after I started as Director of Programs at Chinatown CDC in 1990, I went to back to my old high school (Galileo High School) and recruited eight youth who wanted to make a difference in Chinatown. Since they were being graded every day in school they decided to grade Chinatown’s alleyways and challenge the businesses to help clean up the mess.  This led to the formation of Chinatown CDC’s Adopt an Alleyway program, where AAA youth organize, recruit, and lead peers in monthly neighborhood clean-ups and alleyway beautification projects. Relying on youth to define problems, design solutions, and recruit peers to take action is the model we have used to structure all of Chinatown CDC youth leadership development programs.  The youth serve as Chinatown tour guides, perform outreach and support to seniors and families living in single-room-occupancy hotels, develop recreational activities and provide childcare at monthly Super Sunday town hall meetings and provide lifesaving disaster preparedness training to monolingual Asian immigrants residents of Chinatown.

    Since 2009, our youth have been active in leading disaster preparedness trainings for residents living in SROs. Our many youth programs have had a tremendous impact on safety and quality of life issues in our neighborhood.  I am honored to have played a part in this extraordinary cycle of growth and success which continues to blossom with each succeeding generation of Chinatown youth.

    We are so proud of the residents and youth who have become champions of change not only for Chinatown but for San Francisco and beyond!

    Rev. Norman Fong is the Executive Director of San Francisco’s Chinatown Community Development Center (Chinatown CDC). 

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