One year after formation, Energy Huntsville has grown in recognition and membership, but might be considered to be still in its formative stages, say members of the leadership team.
By sheer numbers of members, growth has been phenomenal. From an initial cadre of a couple of dozen, the total of what founding member and local energy expert Cecil Jones calls “interested parties” has grown to more than 140 member companies, with perhaps 175 individuals represented.
Many of the companies that have flocked to Energy Huntsville were drawn by the pursuit of government energy contracts. The recently-announced $7 billion Power Procurement Agreement contracts will be the largest ever let by the Huntsville Corps.
Under the Power Purchase agreements, the COE seeks reliable energy partners who produce electric power from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.
“When the Army announced that the Huntsville Corps would be in charge of Army energy efficiency efforts worldwide, that got everyone’s attention,” said Jay Newkirk.
“We’ve shown the government that we have a community here that knows how to collaborate and work together,” said co-founder Dale Jobes, who worked early on with Battle to put together the Energy Huntsville concept and served as its first Director.
Battle has since announced Geo Huntsville, with the intent to position Huntsville at the center of the growing geospatial industry. Given the overlap between the specialties, there will be collaboration, and a Geo Summit planned for this fall will feature sessions on the synergism between Energy Huntsville, Geo Huntsville, and the original initiative, Cyber Huntsville.
Attendance at the monthly meetings held each third Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce now average “from 75 to nearly 100″ according to Kelli Ponder of Red Sage Communications, who handles marketing and communications.
But founding member Cecil Jones declines to use the term “members” when referring to the group. “This is really more like an open forum, a group of interested parties,” Jones said.
At the core is a small group of very interested organizations that span the gamut of the energy industry. They include firms such as Calibre, a Virginia-based technology services company with a growing Huntsville office, Carina Technologies, a Huntsville-based firm producing equipment for the growing energy-management market, and Schneider Electric, a global energy management specialty firm with operations in more than 100 countries.
A non-profit, recently-formed Nexus Energy Center serves as a demonstration venue for energy efficient companies, while helping companies and institution gain access to Federal stimulus financing for energy efficiency projects.
“What we came to in our first year comes down to networking, opportunities and education,” Jobes said. Networking is the key element, Ponder stressed. “We want to provide an environment for these companies to come together and form teams,” she said.
But education is also important. “We have had meetings where people learned of opportunities, but we also have tried to educate people in other areas of energy,” Jones said.
The monthly meetings have settled down to a set format. Following announcements of new developments and recognition of new interested parties, Newkirk introduces the main program. Topics have ranged from presentations on the Huntsville Corps’ energy efforts to presentations on TVA and State of Alabama energy conservation programs.
Such was the case at the April meeting, devoted to presentations on Small Modular Reactors, which TVA is looking at as part of its long-term answer to diversifying power generation.
With the passage of its first year, Energy Huntsville is looking at the best way to move forward. Under consideration is formation of a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, which would give greater structure to the currently all-volunteer initiative and require the organization to develop an annual budget.
A change of meeting times from the current 8:30 morning slot to a luncheon format is also under consideration. “But we’ve been pleased with the turnout despite the morning time, which is inconvenient for many,” said leadership team member Steve Reed, President of GoToMarket Solutions.
Early on, the initiative’s leaders decided that success depended on the successful integration of industry, academia, government and utilities. That integration is taking place, but the pace has varied considerably by sector.
For the first year, companies have shown the greatest interest. “Industry is who shows up,” said Newkirk. “They’ve been the anchor of this thing so far.”
He has observed a high level of participation by the utilities. “I’m really excited about what’s happening with the utilities,” Newkirk said, citing the recent hiring of Joe Gerdes by Huntsville Utilities to strengthen the utility’s outreach efforts. TVA has furnished presenters for several programs, including the April meeting on Small Modular Reactors.
He also is pleased by the efforts on the government side, which has included active participation by the Army’s AMRDEC and state agencies such as ADECA.
They would like to see more progress and interest from the academic sphere. “That’s our Achilles Heel right now,” admitted Jones. He did, however, credit UAHuntsville and Alabama A & M with their almost-successful efforts on securing in the 2013 International Student Energy Summit, where Huntsville’s bid to host the conference came in second.
Greater diversification outside the Federal sector is an implicit goal. “I’d love to see more companies come here to pursue non-federal work,” Jones said.
Companies such as Schnieder Electric, however, are using making efforts in the use of Federal stimulus dollars to assist companies in making their facilities more energy efficient. “They have a few projects under way, but so far nothing to write home about,” Jones admitted.
Energy Huntsville’s structure has evolved considerably in its first year and continues to change based on feedback from its first year experiences. “We’ve had several meetings about how we should organize ourselves, and are still coming to a consensus on that,” Newkirk said. Early emphasis on Integrated Planning Teams has given way to a looser structure, what Newkirk called “areas of interest” and said the organization has identified key individuals to head them.
What has not changed is what Jones calls the “council structure” in which no one person has control. “This is a collaborative organization,” Jones said, adding that it takes agreement from at least five council members on major decisions.
“Energy is a changing world, and this organization has the ability to change with it.”
Source: Huntsville Times