NESEA Looks to Define Focus, Embrace Change

When a group of individuals who believed in responsible energy use formed the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, they had a common goal of promoting green technology and products for everyday use. At the organization’s 30th Building Energy Expo in Boston, Board Chairman John Walsh presented the participants with a challenge.

“Now that we can do anything,” he said to the audience, “what will we do?” Growth was the theme for this year’s conference. Many of the same people who have attended previous NESEA events were there, and Robert Pratt, who is the executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, described the show as a gathering of believers. It’s the people who are outside of the gathering of believers that Walsh is becoming interested in. He encouraged everyone to meet at least one new person before the event was over, and asked current NESEA members to help spread the word about the organization and work they have accomplished. His request is a reflection of efforts by the organization to reach beyond only those who are savvy to energy conscious methods and thinking. Certified electrical workers may be one of the last groups that would come to mind as people unaware of the technology that’s available. However, Martin Aikens, who is the business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103, said there is a general distrust of taking on a new technology without assurance that the training is a necessary job skill. Aikens was at the conference as a panelist for the breakout session on training and certification for solar photovoltaic (PV) array installation. It took from 2000 to 2002 for the instructors at the Local’s training facility in Dorchester, Massachusetts to agree to offer some kind of installation training, he said. “How do you tell these guys what’s going on with the whole thing?” Aikens asked. It turned out that the easiest solution was to bring the technology to them. In 2002, Aikens put the word out that a 5.8 kW PV array was going to be installed on the roof of the training facility and he needed volunteers to help put the system in. Over 100 workers responded to the opportunity. Now, an IBEW apprentice can’t graduate without PV installation training. Soon, wind turbine installation will also be a graduation requirement. IBEW Local 103 is preparing to work on a Lorax Energy Systems 100 kW wind turbine that will supply the training facility with power starting in April of 2005. Because the facility is located right off Route 93 near Boston, drivers will pass it everyday during their daily commute to and from the city. Not only will the IBEW get a lesson in renewable energy technology, the turbine visibility will hopefully get others interested as well. It’s that kind of presence that Walsh would like NESEA to have. The organization should be able to bring value to the community, he said, and start to reach beyond the Northeast market. “(NESEA is) a place to test drive, or learn from the people who have already test driven,” he said. NESEA’s board is working with a marketing company so they can narrow the group’s focus beyond the current mission statement, which was written when NESEA was formed. It’s a struggle to grow, Walsh said, and the board will work to “bring together all the spokes of the wheel.”
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