Blog: Sean Reed

Sean Reed, executive director of the Clean Energy Coalition, is on the front line of Michigan's clean energy front. This week he explains how starvation amongst the Maasai tribe in Africa shaped his work, and why we should stand up to funding cuts to low income and energy efficiency programs.

From a Folding Chair to $55 Million in Funded Clean Energy Projects

There can be no doubt that here in Michigan, things are changing, especially when it comes to how we power our economy and our daily lives.  The Clean Energy Coalition is a not-for-profit organization that has not only embraced the need for change but has been actively working to deploy the tools and technologies that can make it happen faster.  Change doesn't happen through good intentions and sheer willpower alone.   The creation and growth of the Clean Energy Coalition is a case in point.  After working for the city of Ann Arbor on clean energy projects, I conceived the idea of creating an independent organization that could work on the same challenges and solutions, but have a statewide impact.  That was the genesis of the Clean Energy Coalition, which was established in 2005. 

In our first five years, we have worked through many of the same issues that every entrepreneur faces.  Moving from a one-person shop to hiring our first staff person, and then growing the organization with 14 full-time and five part-time employees.  If you haven't had that entrepreneurial moment of sitting alone in a bare office with a folding chair, card table, laptop and cell phone as your sole office mates, I highly encourage you to have this experience at least once in your life.  It's highly transformative. 

As an organization, we've worked hard to establish credibility with potential partners and stakeholders.  We’ve worked with everyone from the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, to Fortune 500 companies, to municipalities from across the state, to mom and pop shops, to the homeowner down the block.  We've fostered a culture of creativity and innovation with our staff.  We've created a strong brand that connects with consumers and potential partners, and is uniquely differentiated from other companies and organizations working in the clean energy arena.  And we have identified unmet needs in the market, and then systematically assembled funding and partners who can help drive change.

So, in our work to transform markets in the clean energy sector, what needs have we seen from our partners?  In general, the biggest issue is not a lack of desire to change.  It's not knowing where to start.  There have never been more options available to help people, businesses, and municipalities save money on their energy bills, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and cut pollution.  However, with so many choices, limited budgets, and competing priorities, it can be challenging for even the most well-intentioned and committed individuals and organizations to move forward confidently and with purpose.   Many people we speak with often overlook the simple things they can do without a big cash outlay.  For example, they might be interested in installing a wind generator on their home, but haven't done anything to reduce their electrical load, such as installing compact fluorescent light bulbs.

In general, we have found that a "go it alone" strategy is not always the best way to tackle problems, uncover opportunities, or create value.  We have found that as an organization, our ability to open the door to new technologies, new partners, and new sources of funding is our greatest asset.  Since we launched in 2005, we have been building bridges between the public and private sectors.  We have assembled over $55 million in funded clean energy projects developed right here in Michigan.  Whether the goal is to build a green vehicle fleet, reduce the energy footprint of buildings, or help build clean energy infrastructure, our track record makes us a valued partner.

Our far-reaching initiatives include championing innovative vehicle technologies to create green fleets that reduce emissions and boost fuel economy.  A local example of this is the support we provided to help put Ann Arbor's new hydraulic hybrid recycling trucks on the road.  Others include spearheading infrastructure investments including local biodiesel, ethanol, compressed natural gas, and upcoming electric charging infrastructure; auditing and creating energy conservation plans for residential and commercial buildings; and helping to organize Ann Arbor's annual Earth Day and Green Fair events, as well as other local workshops and stakeholder events.  We've also provided technical consulting services to 40 municipalities, including conducting greenhouse gas inventories and establishing revolving energy funds.  And assisting with the launch of the state's first commercial PACE (property assessed clean energy) program in Ann Arbor is certainly something we are particularly proud of.

Just like a "go it alone" strategy doesn't work, neither does a cookie-cutter approach.  Our organization recognizes that every individual and entity it works with is starting at a different place and has different resources and goals when it comes to adopting clean energy solutions.   Our deep understanding of the issues and technology, committed partners, and access to capital allows us to develop custom-tailored solutions for our clients and partners.  We would welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with you to bridge the individual needs you might have and advance the many positive opportunities and changes currently underway.  I think you'll find we can exceed your expectations – both for bottom line results and in delivering measurable improvements to our quality of life.