Brianna’s Farewell: Off to Ethiopia

My first week at Macalester College, in September of 2009, I came across an announcement for people interested in energy and community building, and ended up at my first Cooperative Energy Futures meeting.

Several upperclassmen explained the social, environmental and economic opportunities of energy efficiency. They wanted to empower people to take control of their energy future and prove a viable business case for energy efficiency in a cooperative for-profit business. Though I couldn’t make heads or tails of the five page list of things I could work on and didn’t really understand the background, methods or end goal of the venture, their passion was contagious.

My first year working with CEF was chaotic, frustrating and incredibly enlightening. We developed efficiency kits and a home energy workshop protocol. The following summer I worked full time with other youth leaders through Summer of Solutions, and as a team moved CEF to the next level, creating a home base and mission around improving efficiency and access to clean energy in South Minneapolis.

My second year at CEF we gained insights into the many problems preventing people from taking simple actions to lower their energy use, and the challenges of working in a diverse and low income neighbor. I had a chance to work on my first grant (which we won!) and took on more responsibility by joining the board. But it wasn’t until the following year, as I skyped in from study abroad in India and drafted our first official business plan, that the team gained traction in program implementation.

In our first bulk insulation project we helped seven households insulate their walls, successfully negotiating a discount from a trusted contractor while implementing quality control checks on the work. Despite its small size, the project was a success. When I somehow wound up as co-op accountant I was excited to report that we were, just barely, in the black.

As my senior year of college approached my roll shifted to behind the scenes organization and communication, but CEF’s model began to take off. As we became an established presence in South Minneapolis I started receiving calls from residents who had heard about our programs and wanted to participate or asking us to expand into their neighborhoods. Our first solar bulk buy was a success, frustrated by a terrible slow response from the Xcel Energy rebate program. In response, CEF has become part of a solar leasing program, helping mitigating the need for a rebate program and making solar energy affordable and accessible across the twin cities.
When I graduated last May and moved to Washington DC I figured my CEF days were over, but it turns out it’s taken joining the Peace Corps and moving to Ethiopia to stop me skyping into monthly board meetings. Back in 2009 I could never imagine all that CEF would give me over four and a half years. I’ve met some of my closest friends, taken on challenges few college students have an opportunity to tackle and been part of a movement I believe will revolutionize the way we use and relate to energy in the United States. Though we have to part ways, I’m incredibly excited to see where CEF goes next.

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