Personal Thanks to Margie Harris, Energy Trust Executive Director

By Jeff Bissonnette - The year 1999 was pivotal for Oregon energy policy. The Oregon legislature adopted Senate Bill 1149 that year that has provided the basis for energy and utility regulation since.

The bill was a wide-ranging piece of legislation that dealt with lots of issues. But perhaps most important, the bill created a stream of funding for increased energy efficiency and renewable resources and also gave the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) the authority to contract with “an independent third-party nonprofit organization” to administer those funds.

After determining that no organization already existed to administer these important ratepayer funds, the PUC asked stakeholders to create a new organization whose mission would be to acquire energy efficiency savings and invest in renewable resources on behalf of utility customers. That organization became Energy Trust of Oregon.

Energy Trust has amassed an impressive record of success since opening its doors in 2002. According to its 2015 annual report to the Oregon PUC and its board of directors, Energy Trust has saved 548 average megawatts of electricity (about the size of a traditional power plant), has saved 45.3 million annual therms of natural gas (enough to provide gas heat to 89,000 Oregon homes) and has helped generate 119 average megawatts of renewable energy (enough to power about 92,000 Oregon homes).

These impressive accomplishments do not just happen on their own. They are driven by people – the staff and contractors of Energy Trust – who work every day to deliver positive results to the ratepayers who provide the funding. And, since November 2001, Margie Harris had been leading the development and growth of Energy Trust as its executive director.

As Employee #1 who started work before the organization was even open for business, Margie literally built Energy Trust from the bottom up. Starting with an initial staff of about a dozen, Energy Trust now includes just over 100 staff and multiple contractors plus a trade ally network all serving the customers of four utilities (Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural Gas) and will soon add a fifth (Avista).

Looking back, it’s easy to see that Margie was the right choice to be the founding executive director of such an innovative organization. She helped write some of the first energy conservation legislation and programs in the 1970s while working at the Oregon Department of Energy. She ran marketing and outreach efforts of a regional solar energy center established under President Carter. She was instrumental in creating the City of Portland’s initial energy policies and programs as a staffer for a city commissioner. In her words, energy has been “a lifetime of work and passion” for Margie.

As important as her grounding in energy policy and program innovation has been in building Energy Trust, her passion for creating a healthy, innovative and supportive organizational culture has been even more critical. It is rare to find an executive that can take an organizational start-up (for-profit or non-profit) from its early days to being a mature organization. But Margie has done just that and Energy Trus has created an internal culture where people are accountable to clear organizational goals but also have the personal responsibility and leeway to serve customers.

Margie will “rewire,” as she puts it, starting in August 2016 and hand over the leadership reins of Energy Trust. Because Energy Trust is as significant an Oregon accomplishment as the Bottle Bill, the Beach Bill or land use planning, Oregonians owe Margie our thanks for building an institution that maintains and expands Oregon’s reputation as a leader in thinking about how today’s decisions impact future generations.

Personally, it has been my privilege to call Margie an ally, a collaborator and a friend. I join with many voices expressing deep gratitude for Margie’s leadership and best wishes as she decides where to dedicate her considerable talents next. Thanks for everything, Margie! Like the warmth of the sun and the light of the day, may good fortune always shine bright on your way. Mazel tov!

 Margie Harris standing on her rooftop with her solar modules.

Margie Harris standing on her rooftop with her solar modules.

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