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Program Evaluation – Nellie, You Are Toast

By February 18, 2013November 8th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

In the blah, blah, frufrah blogosphere there are plenty of rosy fables and opinions of energy efficiency and green energy.  In a blatant marketing pitch, the Energy Rant is the only blog from the inside, critical of things in our industry.  Our industry is not unlike any family, marriage, workplace, company, celebrity, elite athlete, pet, child, or even a normal person.  It has faults.  It has problems and failure.  There is trouble.  There is dishonesty (gasp!).  Lots of money is wasted.  There are problem children.  There are competent reliable firms, and there are “yes ma’am” firms.  This is what one learns in 17 years of energy studies, program evaluation, and implementation services.

Consider all of the above examples of people and institutions.  Can you think of any one of them improving or being the best they can be if they aren’t critical of themselves and their institution?  I’m not talking about masochism or being overly critical.  There are few of those, but I avoid like the avian flu virus anyone who thinks or says they proverbially walk on water.

One of the most important things I’ve learned, and surprisingly have read a few times recently, is that people like genuineness, humility, along with confidence.  An “I don’t know” here and there is a good thing.  In fact, I am so arrogant, I say “I don’t know what I’m doing here [on a particular subject, e.g., social media]” and “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing” many times a week.

As mentioned a couple weeks ago in DoGooder Equity, as I was just explaining last week to a job candidate during an interview, the passion I have for this work is to use energy efficiency as a resource alternative to power plants, poles and wires.  And it has to be cost effective.

Part of being cost effective is “being” in the first place – meaning are the savings there or not?  Cue the Energy Rant.  At Michaels, we call balls and strikes like we see em.  If a buyer of services wants “yes ma’am” program evaluation, there are, unfortunately, firms who will take the money and provide “Yes ma’am, everything is wonderful with your program”.  In fact, compiling reports that declare “everything is wonderful” is even less expensive to provide.  Just change the cover.  So what’s not to like?

I’ll tell you what’s not to like, the customers and the citizens are getting the shaft, and that isn’t going to end like Little House on the Prairie.  What’s her name, Nellie, the merchant’s kid, is going to keep kicking the dickens out of Laura and getting away with it ad nauseam.

In my view and experience, utilities like to leverage energy efficiency programs as a customer service; good for public relations.  In general, when they are first told by the regulators that they have to run EE programs, they don’t like it and really would just as soon not save energy because, hey, it erodes revenue and profit. This is understandable.  Ameren Missouri and First Energy Ohio made headlines in the past year and made their cases to roll back their EE spending to their respective regulatory agencies, and they were both largely denied.

At some point the eureka light comes on and utilities realize it is a fact of life, and they embrace energy efficiency as being good for the company.  How the math on that works, I have no idea.  (note the humility)

Generally, by the time they embrace energy efficiency, they are open to making sure customers are getting impacts as advertised.  I have experienced one transformation from an upper Midwest utility right under my nose.  In my view, they switched from smokescreen programs to look good to the regulators and customers, to true believers, and this is fantastic to behold.  They want the dirt.  They want the truth.  They want an actual read on their programs.  Why?  BECAUSE THAT IS HOW THINGS IMPROVE!  We love working for clients like this. Newby utilities, in general, take program evaluation critique as a personal insult.  This is unfortunate because they frequently have the most to gain from the evaluation process.

The other thing that comes with maturity of EE programs and utilities is the very subject of this post – they know everything is not wonderful in their organization, their portfolio, their processes, their tracking system, and their vendors.  As stated numerous times in this blog in general, in order to be successful, one first has to know what failure looks like, accept it as reality, understand what happened, and fix it.  A probing, honest, and thorough program evaluation to identify and quantify success and failure is essential for improvement.

Finally, to enable improvement, one has to engage the right person(s) and/or organization(s).  In another overt pimping of this blog, that is what I do.

Call me crazy, but I think this is the way to win the big day.  Be constructively critical.  Acknowledge failure and fix from within.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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