Joining DEP: Finding an energized community

June 18, 2014
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Hi, my name is Michelle Vigen, and I am thrilled to join Montgomery County DEP to support and advance its clean energy and climate protection goals.

I am particularly excited to be involved in the implementation of the county’s commercial building benchmarking law and the commercial property-assessed clean energy (PACE) program (in development). I look forward to working with residents, businesses, public agencies, utilities, local governments, and community groups to expand energy efficiency and renewable energy in the county.

 

My Energy Journey

I have always been very interested in the intersection between human communities and our environment: From working at a state park on Lake Superior and seeing how the communities balanced tourism, logging, and mining, to backpacking through Peru and harvesting potatoes with Andean farmers, I have seen first-hand the real tradeoffs communities face to preserve their livelihoods and ecosystems.

 

Image of Michelle Vigen backpacking across Peru.

Backpacking Andean Peru to research sustainable agricultural practices

 

For several years, I worked with the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams, where I managed community-led renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives. It was there that I learned about community-based social marketing as a way to harness social and community influences around energy and sustainability and began using it to provide more engaging programs. Since coming to DC, I’ve had the fortune to study the role of community further at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy as a researcher on the human aspect of energy efficiency. I’ve even had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of local government at Loudoun County.

 

Image of the Clean Energy Resource Team Poster

CERTS Screen Printed Poster, courtesy of the Clean Energy Resource Teams

 

What I’ve found throughout this journey is that community is really the driving force behind developing our own energy future: And I see it here in Montgomery County! Whether it’s a large scale solar project, like we see at the array in Poolesville, or you’re a homeowner trying to find time to implement easy ways to save at home, we rely on our friends and community to rally with us. We even look to our utilities for their incentives to help us do the right thing.

I look at projects like the Passive House in Rockville, the passage of the benchmarking bill, and the development of the Climate Protection Plan (.pdf, 3.4MB), and it is apparent that Montgomery County is a leader in energy due to an active and engaged community.

 

A Clean Energy Future, By Community and For Community

When I tell people I’m from Minnesota, they usually ask where my accent is (it surfaces only during rare occasions!), but one of the values I still bring from the state is the belief that sustainability is a community endeavor. The effort of one person to improve our environment is felt by others, and the success of that effort is dependent on collaborating with those around us.

Everyone stands to benefit from greater control over their energy future, whether it’s reducing your energy bill to bolster your business’s bottom line, experiencing greater comfort in your home during colder-than-average winters, or shrinking your footprint with clean energy. But we can’t achieve it alone; it requires engaging our whole community and inviting everyone to participate.

This work isn’t necessarily easy. Doing our part requires us to change the way we think and act, make decisions, and even view ourselves. It requires us to change our habits, have new and different conversations with our neighbors, and share our lessons learned and victories openly and often.

 

Image of Michelle Vigen backpacking

Michelle Vigen

 

I admire the commitment and dedication of those I’ve met so far in Montgomery County and am impressed by the county’s achievements in energy. The benchmarking bill is a milestone, as Montgomery County is the first county in the nation to pass such a bill. Its success will rely on us providing support to our large commercial building owners and cheering on those who track and save energy. Achieving our energy efficiency and clean energy goals requires collaboration between various individuals and organizations. I hope to build off of and grow the existing network that supports this very important work. In fact, you can engage with this network and find ways to act by visiting MyGreenMontgomery.org today!

It is an honor to be welcomed into the Montgomery County community to work on advancing clean energy. Do I see community here? You betcha! It is very apparent to me why Montgomery County is considered a leader in sustainability and energy work – everywhere I turn, I’m meeting individuals and their respective organizations, each who are part of a community committed to supporting each other’s efforts to make their communities clean, strong, healthy, and sustainable.

– Michelle Vigen, Senior Energy Planner, Department of Environmental Protection

Reach out to Michelle at michelle.vigen@montgomerycountymd.gov

 



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