While preparing this article, the authors discussed personality tests. We found that whenever we completed personality tests, the results are the same for the both of us. We are both high "E"s (extroverts). Whether at work or in our personal lives, we have both learned to partner with others with diverse strengths to achieve success. When individuals work as a team to collaborate, they are pooling their knowledge, as well as their resources and skills, to reach an overall goal. The same is true for energy efficiency collaborative groups.
Collaborative groups may consist of utility program administrators, evaluators, regulators, consumer groups and other stakeholders that support the long-term success of energy efficiency programs. Collaborative groups are a tool to optimize program design, delivery and regulatory review, and assist in the development of program processes that have the transparency and accountability in place to meet the needs of the environment in which programs operate.
Although some states still do not have collaborative groups; their frequency is increasing nationally as energy efficiency funding increases and energy efficiency programs gain visibility. Collaborative groups come in all shapes and sizes – and while the formation of each group, its number of stakeholders, frequency of meetings and mission may vary by region – what they have in common is that each of the five collaborative groups we examined have improved energy efficiency programs, achieved support of stakeholders and triggered less controversy in the end.
Through interviews with five regional stakeholders, we found that collaborative groups can help address some of the challenges energy efficiency professionals face today. They bring a range of stakeholders together to discuss issues and reach consensus and commonality on how programs are designed, implemented, evaluated and reported. These discussions with stakeholders identified several factors that contributed to successful collaborative groups.
Like any relationship, collaborative groups function best when members trust each other. Effective collaborative groups facilitate trust among regulators, commission staff, utilities, and other external stakeholders. Trust can be fostered by delivering on promises, being respectful of alternative views, being transparent, and focusing on shared (rather than personal) goals.
Early and ongoing, active involvement
Having open and honest discussions not only builds trust, but may help build consensus. When stakeholders are engaged in developing solutions, they are often more open to supporting them. Achieving stakeholder buy-in early helps consensus building and can avoid lengthy burdensome regulatory review processes. A collaborative group functions best when members are dedicated to the group and are active participants.
Information dissemination and training
Interviewees described a benefit of collaborative groups as bringing everyone on the same page. However, to do that first requires training on regulatory, DSM, and evaluation issues, as well as historic context. This need for knowledge creates a challenge when collaborative group members change. Although it may be desirable to rotate members to stimulate new ideas, training of new members is essential. Not all members are experts in the field and lack of understanding may lead to distrust. Familiar faces and consistent points of contact may also help build trust. Once members have a foundational understanding of the issues, documentation of meeting results, decisions and outcomes can help to build an institutional record and keep members apprised of the collaborative activities.
Existence of a facilitator
A good facilitator makes sure that the opinion of each member of the collaborative group is fully heard and that the collaborative group is able to achieve its mandate in an open environment. Nearly all individuals interviewed discussed the use of a facilitator, contracted by the collaborative group or consortium of utilities.
Introduction of subcommittees to increase efficiency of collaborative groups
Larger and more mature collaborative groups can become difficult to manage; particularly, it can be almost impossible to make decisions and accomplish objectives in a large group. To help manage this, careful consideration should go into who should formally be part of the collaborative group. Also, assigning members to subcommittees or a steering committee may allow key members to invest time outside of regular meetings to develop streamlined proposals to present to collaborative groups for approval.
Below we highlight the states interviewed and a summary of their collaborative initiatives. There will be an AESP Brown Bag webinar on December 19 that will provide additional insight into best practices and lessons learned from collaborative groups via a panel discussion with representatives from several of these states.
In 2008, the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC) was created by the Green Communities Act. Its members guide the development of energy efficiency plans by the state's investor-owned gas and electric utilities and energy providers, and monitor the implementation of these plans. The EEAC is comprised of members representing the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources as convener, residential consumers, the environmental community, businesses, the manufacturing industry, energy efficiency experts, the attorney general, nonprofits, the heating oil industry, ISO-NE, and the energy efficiency program administrators (PAs). The PAs rely on an external legal representative (Rich May, P.C.) to facilitate their collaboration.
The Electric Utility Marketing Managers of Texas (EUMMOT) is the primary collaborative group in Texas. It is a voluntary organization of electric investor-owned utilities that has been around for more than 40 years. Although the members are not really marketing managers any longer, the name is an indication of what the utilities did when the organization began – marketing their utility services. Through the years EUMMOT has redesigned itself to provide input to, and to comply with, on-going regulatory and legislative initiatives regarding energy efficiency issues. Texas utilities contract with an organization (Frontier Associates) to facilitate the EUMMOT process. A second collaborative, the Energy Efficiency Implementation Project (EEIP), was a relatively recent initiative (about six years old) established by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, to stimulate broader participation in the development and implementation of energy efficiency across the state. EEIP is a collaborative open to any interested stakeholder in the state and has a wide variety of participants.
The Wisconsin commission has a long history of working through issues with collaborative groups. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin oversees the statewide Focus on Energy, which is funded by utilities' public benefits collections. Rather than having one central collaborative group through which all issues are discussed and vetted, various functional collaborative groups voluntarily formed out of necessity. Examples include collaborative groups focused on trade ally outreach and energy impacts work papers and approvals. They also have a collaborative with all the utilities that contribute to Focus on Energy, which is used to determine the needs of utilities regarding reporting requirements and other similar issues. In addition, an Evaluation Work Group (EWG) was ordered as part of the prior quadrennial planning process. The EWG is comprised of five representatives from different perspectives: evaluation, commission staff, program administrator, utility representative, and an evaluation expert specifically identified in the commission order. Unlike other states, the collaborative groups operate more like separate working groups, and the participation in the groups tend to not include interveners or other external stakeholders. The leader of these groups also varies between evaluation, program administration, and commission staff.
A DSM Collaborative group has been meeting in Rhode Island since the early 1990s. It is comprised of signatories to annual utility energy efficiency program plan filings, filed as settlement agreements before the RI Public Utilities Commission. The Collaborative meets throughout the year to discuss various aspects of energy efficiency services, including program planning and implementation. In 2008, the Collaborative became a subcommittee of the RI Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council (EERMC). The EERMC's mission is to provide an integrated, comprehensive, public, stakeholder-driven organizational structure to secure for Rhode Island and its people the full supply, economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency, conservation and resource management. Annual and three-year plans are now presented to the EERMC for endorsement before filing with the RI PUC. The EERMC consists of seven voting members representing: energy regulation and law, large commercial, small commercial, residential, low income, environmental and energy design and codes. The EERMC also consists of four nonvoting members representing electric distribution, gas distribution, heating oil distribution and the RI Office of Energy Resources.
British Columbia has the Electricity Conservation & Efficiency Advisory Committee (EC&E) which was formed in 2006. BC Hydro agreed to establish a public committee to provide advice and input into demand-side management (electricity conservation and efficiency) as a result of the 2005 Resource and Expenditures Acquisition Plan Negotiated Settlement Process. BC Hydro is committed to mutually beneficial, respectful, and transparent engagement with First Nations, British Columbia communities and stakeholders including diverse members from academia, the business community, building owners and managers, residential customers, institutions, industrial customers, government, independent power producers, trade allies and gas utility partners.
“Reprinted from Strategies, the members newsletter of the Association of Energy Services Professionals. Please visit AESP.org for more great resources.”