Each year the alliance celebrates the organizations, teams and individuals who have shown exemplary dedication to furthering efficiency in the region and beyond. This interview features Frank Brown, a legend in the Northwest energy efficiency community. For more than 40 years at Bonneville Power Administration, Frank has contributed to the success of energy efficiency, demand response, and non-wire solutions in the region. His distinguished career has earned numerous awards for innovation and energy savings for federal agencies and his innovative solutions have contributed to a more resilient regional power system. Frank was recognized with the alliance’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award.
What is your advice for the next generation of energy efficiency professionals?
The record of energy efficiency achievement in the Northwest is outstanding. Policy support for BPA and Northwest retail utility energy efficiency implementation is also deeply embedded in the Regional Power Act and state and local laws and requirements. Despite that history and those advantages, the next generation of energy efficiency professionals should not be complacent about energy efficiency continuing to be the main new power resource built in the region. New energy efficiency professionals should constantly test and affirm the value of energy efficiency against all other existing and new power supply alternatives. Energy efficiency will need to prove that it continues to be the best deal from a utility business perspective. That may be more difficult to accomplish as other resources reduce their costs, as energy efficiency costs increase, and markets and utility needs change. Energy efficiency professionals must not assume that the future will be like the past – that will likely not be the case. Energy efficiency will need to earn its place in utility resource plans based on objective analytics competing energy efficiency against all other alternatives, not because of its history.
What are you most proud of in your energy efficiency career?
I’m most proud of building a trusted technically skilled and diverse 125 employee energy efficiency organization in BPA’s Seattle office from scratch in a time when energy efficiency was not well supported or valued by BPA. Against all odds, we never missed spending our budgets fully and making all energy efficiency targets from 1981 to 1995. There were huge obstacles and challenges of many types to overcome to get that done, the likes of which have, thankfully, never occurred again since 2001.
I am so proud of the fearlessness and constant creativity of the Puget Sound Area Office energy efficiency employees. We always figured out solutions when confronted with unexpected issues and found ways to satisfy our power customer utilities and other program implementers, keeping them actively engaged and enthused about energy efficiency implementation. We worked in every end use sector and used every possible implementation method (loans, grants, incentives, performance contracts, third party and utility financing, billing credits, point of sale promotions, and so much more). At our peak, I believe the Seattle BPA energy efficiency department was as progressive and skilled as any in the nation. We built a solid foundation for the future of BPA Energy Efficiency.
What are the biggest challenges ahead for energy efficiency in the region?
Energy efficiency is likely to be challenged in the years ahead in several ways. First, other power supply resources will continue to sharply reduce their implementation costs, as they have been in recent years. At the same time, many of the lowest cost historic energy efficiency opportunities have been exhausted or supplanted by codes and standards. This will continue to put upward cost pressure on energy efficiency.
Second, the changing resource mix in the west and Northwest, and changing power markets may put a greater premium on capacity rather than energy. The timing of load reductions may become most important, not the annual average load reductions. Energy efficiency could be challenged to be most competitive if these market and valuation changes occur.
Additionally, more effective resource sharing and reliability planning by western utilities could reduce power supply shortages or limit them to only a few hours in one or two seasons of the year. This could adversely impact the need for energy efficiency. All of these and other similar trends are evident today. Offsetting these trends are the clean energy goals of many states in the region and west, which could cause existing load forecasts used for utility planning to be increased as transportation and building sector electrification occurs at scale. That could make more energy efficiency necessary in the future to offset rising loads.
It is uncertain how these opposing trends might interact. In either case, energy efficiency will be challenged – in one case, to be cost effective, least cost, and competitive – and in the other case, to produce lots of low-cost energy savings from a reduced supply of low-cost energy efficiency. Managing through such dynamic planning scenarios in an effective manner will by itself by challenging.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I must add a discussion about something that I am especially proud of. In 1995, when BPA suspended and ended its energy efficiency programs and decided to close the Puget Sound Area Office, including our energy efficiency department, I found a way to retain 15 of BPA’s most talented regional energy efficiency staff (and my own job). A couple BPA employees in Portland and Sacramento (yes, we had a Sacramento, CA, back then) and I developed a reimbursable energy efficiency and renewable energy services product which we could sell to other federal agencies. We implemented this reimbursable program, nationwide and internationally (US State Department, overseas military bases) from 1995 to 2021. In 1995, the BPA Administrator gave me 18 months to get those 15 employees, mostly high value energy efficiency engineers, off the BPA books, or they would be terminated. I achieved that target in 12 months and preserved their BPA positions.
When BPA needed to restart an energy efficiency program with customer utilities in 2000-2001, we could respond immediately because this core BPA EE team was available. We could shift quickly from doing reimbursable work for other federal agencies to once again doing energy efficiency in the Northwest with our power customers. Some employees continued to only do federal reimbursable work until September 2021, when the program was ended. Most of the team, which had grown to almost 25 employees, did a mix of federal agency and Northwest utility program work until 2007.
I will always be proud of the federal reimbursable program, through which BPA energy efficiency staff managed over $1 billion of other agency funds for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects over 26 years, reducing federal agency utility bills by an estimated $400 million per year. This was a true win-win initiative. It saved BPA’s most uniquely skilled EE staff from termination or reassignment, which allowed BPA to quickly restart a regional energy efficiency program when that was needed. At the same time, federal agencies received our valuable services to improve their facilities, use energy and water more efficiently, and permanently reduce their operating costs. It should be noted that the program also provided a steady stream of net revenue, after all expenses were paid for, to BPA’s power business, totaling over $25 million over the 26 years in which the program was implemented.
Learn more about all of the 2021 Leadership in Energy Efficiency Award Winners here.
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