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Chapter Highlight: Building the Market for EE in Arizona

Efficiency First Arizona (EFAZ) is one of our newest EF chapters.  Having recently passed their anniversary date, this first year was a big success for the association, with some key wins for energy efficiency in Arizona thanks to EFAZ's efforts. 

With member companies from across the state rallying behind the cause, EFAZ laid the ground work to help end 2014 with new EE programs being approved for funding under Tucson Electric Power’s (TEP) plan and having defended Arizona’s current energy efficiency goals to save 22% by 2020 against the proposal by one of the Corporation Commissioners to kill the standard.  See related articles: The Arizona Republic, Arizona Daily Star, written by Efficiency First AZ Executive Director, Heather Szymanski.

This week we'll be looking at Efficiency First Arizona's work on our blog, by interviewing a few EFAZ leaders. Check out the first installment today, where we talk with EFAZ Executive Director Heather Szymanski.

1. How long have you been in the HP Industry? In what capacity?

In 2009 I volunteered for a non-profit that integrated pieces of the green building puzzle including: energy efficiency, solar, wind, sustainable farming, water management, geothermal, permaculture, etc.  I became the executive director and began arranging various certification trainings. It was obvious that it was efficiency that needed to come first. The testing & reports related to BPI\RESNET provided a clear path of what building improvements were needed, and where the best ROI could be obtained.  After getting my BPI BA/EP in 2012, thanks to available workforce funding, I entered the field as an energy auditor in order to boost my technical understanding of building science and learn how to better communicate consumer benefits. I had been the marketing director of an International German process engineering company where I was mainly involved in technical fields. Energy Efficiency merged well with that experience.

2. How did the EFAZ chapter come about: What were the motivations behind starting the chapter?  Why did you get involved?

EFAZ started organizing in December 2013 when several home performance contractors realized that they needed a group to watch their back while they were in the field. Multiple threats were and are brewing against energy efficiency programs in Arizona. Contractors were hit hard when a few EE programs ended without adequate notice. I attended the 2nd EFAZ meeting, having recently moved to Arizona from Maryland. I knew EF was doing amazing work in Maryland and I wanted to see what was happening in the southwest. Executives from one of the EFAZ founders, ThermalStar, apparently liked something I said at the meeting and spoke with me about working with the group. This is a passion of mine, so it was an easy fit. I immediately saw the potential of EFAZ, was impressed with the contractors involved and saw an urgent need for the EE industry to work together, most especially in Arizona.

3. Can you give us a brief description of the chapter’s progress and the state's reaction to the new chapter, from your perspective:

EFAZ is growing quickly due to the extreme need to defend Arizona’s Energy Efficiency Standard- to save 22% by 2020. Many contractors did not realize that the standard is what initially created Arizona’s EE Utility Programs.
Since there are major gaps in the education of contractors, building professionals and utility consumers, we’ve found Arizona to be overall welcoming of our efforts. Consumers do not realize all the resources that are available. Contractors are working so hard in the field it makes it near impossible for them to stay on top of political issues, new codes and improving business models. We’ve partnered with key industry players like utility companies, contractors, consumer groups, and others related to advancing the EE industry to help fill these gaps.

4. How is the chapter affecting the AZ HP industry? How do you view the chapter's role?

EFAZ is focused on collaboration in residential, commercial and industrial energy efficiency.  In our short history, EFAZ has already assisted Arizona’s EE industry. We are actively working to improve business and financing models to make it easier for more utility consumers to take action. For example, we’re helping advance PACE and other financing tools in Arizona. Participating in EE events like the recent RESNET conference in San Diego, allows our chapter to leverage successful programs and knowledge from other states. We also work with our member companies, like www.arizonaskyshades.com, to support the development of innovative new products. One of our biggest roles is advancing positive EE regulatory efforts with the ACC and other policy makers. Speaking as a collective voice is powerful and needed.

5. Can you give us a ‘State of the Industry’:

One of the hottest EE Industry topics in Arizona was the recent attack on the current Energy Efficiency Standard. That standard created many of the EE Programs in 2010 and is the driving force behind other advancements. Even though Arizona is a home rule state, several key areas like Phoenix, Tucson, Scottsdale, etc. have mandated the IECC 2012 code and are now considering the IECC 2015. The latter does not raise the bar so much as make it easier to reach the bar. Some do not want to see any codes mandated and are challenging them in the legislature.
Then we have the essential role that EE plays in successfully meeting the requirements for 111D from the EPA to improve air quality. There is some resistance to this as well.

6. What are some future goals or projects of EFAZ?

There is a big EFAZ push to utilize the time while in reactive triage mode, to move toward more proactive market transformation. We are striving towards a balance of strengthening existing utility programs, while creating more options for independence. We need to make financing options easier in Arizona and to help to implement the BPI Rater program on a larger scale. EFAZ is working in cooperation with utilities like SRP (Salt River Project) to help consumers to better understand what is available to them. It makes it even more confusing when there is no correlation between a HES or HERS score. We are meeting with policy makers to develop better options for EE industry businesses and utility consumers alike. We’d also like to start applying our collective skills to projects in the field that make a difference to further educate consumers on what we have to offer. EFAZ is working with Kris Mayes, a former chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission. Her guidance has been essential in navigating opportunities.

7. Has it been valuable to work with EF National and with other chapters? How?

EF National and the other chapters have been essential in helping to navigate complex issues we all deal with relating to technology, building sciences, codes, politics, business, consumer needs, utility programs and justifying our existence to policy makers. Time is short, resources are tight and the ‘to do’ list is long. The guidance and reliable facts from National provides a solid foundation to build upon. The real world examples from other chapters helps us all to be more efficient with our efforts. We’re lucky to get to learn and grow together.

8. What's been most rewarding for you personally about getting engaged with EFAZ?

We make buildings healthier, safer, and more comfortable, while increasing property value. We help people and businesses save money, energy and water. That’s bigger school budgets, more food at shelters, lower business overhead, less asthma and cancers, new career opportunities and so much more. As a bonus, this is all good for the environment. I’m lucky to be working with wonderful people doing such essential work.

9. If there a statement that you would like to share with our national EF membership:

No matter how busy you are in the field, it is imperative to pay attention to the politics, communicate regularly with policy makers about the positive things we do beyond saving money, and work to become more independent of utility rebate programs. As AEEE recently published, we can have both, but it is dangerous for your business to rely too heavily on just the programs. Let’s better utilize available resources together. i.e. The new BPI Rater program is a possible key to further independence of utility rebate programs, especially when bundled with PACE and other financing options.

Thanks, Heather- for the interview and for all of your efforts for Efficiency First, the state of Arizona and the home performance industry!

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