My Solar Story- Betsy Kauffman
Join OSEIA in congratulating Betsy as a recipient of the Daily Journal of Commerce's 2016 Women of Vision award. Congratulations Betsy and thank you for your leadership of positive change!
My solar story starts about 25 years ago with a documentary I saw on salmon runs and tribal fishing rights. There was a moment in the film when someone said that tribal overfishing was causing the drop in salmon numbers. Then they cut to someone else saying that there were many factors contributing to the salmon issues, most notably the presence of some rather large dams, and that tribal fishing was probably not high on the problem list.
I had just moved to Portland from the Midwest and had previously never given much thought to how electricity is made and what impact it has on us. It was also a revelation to me, coming from Wisconsin, that rivers could actually be clean... The documentary made an impression on me, I was finally able to do something. So, I started working for a salmon recovery organization in the 1990s called For the Sake of the Salmon.
We started a “salmon-friendly power” program that allowed people to get their power from a salmon-friendly source and also raised money for salmon habitat restoration. The first utility to sign on was Salem Electric Co-op, followed later by Portland General Electric and eventually Pacific Power. I was probably in the first 50 people who signed up. I managed the program for about four years. Those were the days when solar was pretty expensive and the first wind projects were being built in the Northwest. The term “green tag” was brand-new. What was great was how willing people were to talk about electricity. Because of the dams and salmon, people here in the Northwest have more awareness and understanding of how we get power than people in other parts of the country.
I learned a lot about running energy programs and eventually came to Energy Trust of Oregon in 2006. My first role was marketing the renewable programs. The solar program was small enough then that we had paper files and could probably name every customer we worked with. Now, we fund about 1,800 solar systems a year. I also worked on our customer incentive program. We provided incentives for larger solar installations and some irrigation hydro in the first few years. We eventually funded two geothermal projects, some biogas and wind projects and a lot more hydro. I now manage Energy Trust’s renewable energy sector and feel great about the fact that I see our projects everywhere I go.
I love having a job where I can bring my values to work (someday maybe I’ll be able to bring my dog) and truly be involved in changing the world.