When did you join Optimal Energy? What attracted you to the company and your specific role?
MK: I joined in January of 2016. First and foremost, I was attracted to the people. Through my previous job, I knew the team in Optimal’s Rhode Island office. I saw how hard and smart they worked, and how passionate they were for Optimal’s mission. I appreciated how their roles allow them to be key brokers among many stakeholders in Rhode Island to drive energy efficiency policy in the state.
I was also impressed with how the organization effectively integrated its in-depth analytics and technical support with strategic guidance, policy support, and program design. It’s this perfect “opposites attract” relationship that delivers such high-quality support for the states we serve. This was really important to me. My role is in the strategic and program design side of Optimal. Having access to in-depth analytics and technical support from other team members is essential to moving our work forward.
Last, I’d say what attracted me to Optimal was an interest in exploring how to leverage energy efficiency’s regulatory and analytical framework into other industries. For example, health care and public health.
What was your education and professional background before Optimal?
MK: My bachelor’s degree in Public and Community Service Studies is from Providence College. I knew I wanted a career that served the public. The degree provided a strong foundation in topics such as organizational service, public administration, community organizing, cultural diversity, ethics, and moral leadership.
After college and prior to joining Optimal, I worked in the non-profit sector. Since 2007, I’ve worked on issues of low-income energy efficiency, sustainability, green workforce development, sustainable business development, affordable housing, healthy housing, and public health.
Which skills do you draw on most at Optimal?
My experience and skills in facilitating diverse stakeholders are key to advancing Optimal’s mission. Which is to provide cost-efficient solutions to our unsustainable patterns of energy production and consumption.
Other skills I draw on daily include project management, education and training, policy strategy, and stakeholder organizing. In the four years I have been at Optimal, I have added the critical industry language, business models, and policy of energy efficiency to my knowledge of low-income efficiency programs. Coupled with my background and values, I’m in a position to help organize and drive our stakeholders towards our shared energy goals.
You’ve had success developing initiatives to improve low-income energy efficiency and public health. What have been your biggest lessons in navigating these complex programs?
MK: A major lesson I’ve learned in these areas is that everything is connected. Too often, it is convenient and easier to focus on a single specific area. However, what families really deserve is an integrated and streamlined experience that can more effectively respond to their needs. Breaking through the existing silos is often an effective tactic. From my perspective, a larger integrated system that effectively aligns, braids, and coordinates service systems is sorely needed.
From my experience at Optimal, I now understand that the energy efficiency industry has a well-developed and advanced operating model. The industry excels at integrating regulatory issues, business models, analytics, and program frameworks. The system has effective ways to fund, scale, measure, and hold its programs accountable. I believe other industries – such as health care, public health, and housing – could learn from our approach.
You’re based in the company’s Rhode Island office – assuming you work on projects outside of New England, what key differences have you found in other climates and/or cultures?
MK: Yes, I primarily work in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Delaware. In some ways, across those and other jurisdictions, “people are people,” and there are very few differences between areas. All have political realities that make the work challenging and rewarding. However, the key difference from my perspective is that each jurisdiction is at a different place on the evolution of its energy efficiency programs. For example, Massachusetts established its Energy Efficiency Advisory Council in 2008. Delaware started its Energy Efficiency Advisory Council in 2014. As a result, we focus on different stages of development in each of those states. I really like this dynamic in my work —it makes every project interesting.
With your commitment to public service, are you active in your community outside of work?
MK: Yes, being civically engaged is a cornerstone of my personal ethos. I serve on the Community Investment Committee of the United Way of Rhode Island. I’m on the Sustainability Committee in my hometown of South Kingston, RI. I also serve on the board of Rhode Island Interfaith Power & Light. These opportunities help me to connect my professional and personal interests, while serving my community.
Would you share a project you’re especially proud of and why?
MK: I’m especially proud of our work serving the Delaware Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. As I mentioned earlier, this group was formed in 2014. As the project managers, we focus a lot of our attention on foundation building: establishing key relationships and trust, educating major stakeholders. Then we worked to build out the core components necessary to get programs up and operating. Just two weeks ago, all four unregulated program administrators presented action plans, none of which are legally required, but each of which move efficiency forward. The major regulated utility is also about to launch its initial programs. Optimal’s team has come together to effectively deliver to support the State of Delaware to where it is today. I’m super proud of how the Optimal team and the Delaware energy efficiency stakeholders have come together to get this work done.
Please tell us about your favorite hobbies outside of work?
MK: With two small children, my life is primarily all family these days. But, I do carve out time for other pastimes like maintaining our home, with a growing passion for landscaping and gardening, hiking, reading, guitar and singing, and community service projects.
What’s the biggest adventure you ever had? What motivated you to do it?
MK: I backpacked through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador for 5 months when I was 27. Because…. Why not?!?