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By Michael Kleiner
It’s trendy to think that the green movement and sustainable energy is a recent phenomenon.
There were others that laid the ground work. One is the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, which opened its doors 41 years ago – in 1974.
“At the time, we were a real pioneer group of academics and idealists interested in promoting solar power,” said NESEA Executive Director Jennifer Marrapese from her office in Greenfield, MA. “We were known as New England Solar Energy Association. Over the years, our mission has broadened to encompass all forms of sustainable energy, and we expanded to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.”
Their location in Massachusetts qualifies them as SBN’s furthest member.
“We really focus on networking and professional development and not policy and advocacy,” said Jennifer, who has been in her post since 2009. “We thought SBN could help our members in that regard. We are likeminded organizations and we can promote each other through cross-promotions and expand the network.”
NESEA is also a member-based organization and the leading organization on the East Coast of professionals working in sustainable energy. They offer professional development, networking, sustainable energy conferences, tours of highly energy efficient buildings, online courses, peer networking, and feedback on how member companies can improve their triple bottom line.
A look at the web site shows a host of activity. There are invitations for tours of cold climate homes with ducted and ductless mini-splits and of a Passive House School and Net Zero Energy Home in Falmouth, ME. These tours are led by NESEA members, giving them and their businesses exposure.
Net Zero is when a home or facility produces at least as much energy as it consumes during a year. Passive House is a concept that originated in Germany, where a house can be positioned to take advantage of the sun’s rays, and the building is constructed to reduce the heating load as much as possible to make it “super-efficient.” Only a small HVAC system is needed.
The home in Maine is modular, four stories, and 2,200 square feet (not including the basement). The school will use air pump heaters, will consume 90% less energy than a typical new school, and will generate all of its energy on site with 40kW of PV and 36 kW of solar. When the building was incomplete last winter, one mini-split in the basement heated the entire building, which is only the third one in the country to be a Passive House-certified school.
The other tour featured a Deep Energy retrofit, a remodeling concept whose aim is to reduce energy consumption by 50%-70%. Duct and ductless are two heating and cooling systems. Each have their pros and cons, but each can result in lower costs.
The NESEA site offers three active blogs, BuildingEnergy Magazine, a green jobs board and green pages directory, NESEA member directory, information about business development and more.
“All our activities educate professionals in our network,” said Jennifer. “We have 11 employees involved in marketing, communications, logistics, project managers for online courses and building tours, staff supported membership drives, and almost anything to support the program.”
The city of Greenfield gave NESEA the building it occupies. In exchange, “We developed an energy park on a brown field, a community park where we educated residents and the community about sustainable and renewable energy,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer brought a varied background to NESEA. A native of Madison, WI, she earned a B.A. in Journalism from University of Wisconsin-Madison, a J.D. from University of California-Berkeley, and Master’s in Organizational Management and Development from Fielding University, in Santa Barbara, CA.
“I started as a lawyer in the telecommunications regulatory arena,” she said. “Some of what I learned there I was able to apply to regulatory energy. I moved into non-profit leadership development. I was Executive Director of Second Venture Partners in Rhode Island, and then, worked in the Development Department at Visiting Nurse Service in Newport/Bristol County, Rhode Island. That brought me to NESEA. I had a six-month job interview. As the organization got to know me and I got to know the organization, I felt passionate about what NESEA was doing. When they asked me to stay, I agreed.”
She credits time spent in the Netherlands with the development of her interest in sustainability.
“I was not specifically inspired by anyone,” she said. “I’ve always been conscious of living with a light footprint. If there was anything that impacted me, it was when I was an exchange student in the Netherlands when I was 18. It was a smaller place, operating in a smaller plane, living with just enough. The philosophy stuck with me and relates to the work I’m doing at NESEA.”