Submitted by Shelly Lyser, Project Specialist, Energy Markets Policy Group at Con Edison and Contributing Author to the WICE blog.
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Earlier this year, I sat down with Lisa DeVito of Con Edison’s Energy Efficiency group to discuss her work and experiences in the field of energy. Before joining Con Edison last November, Lisa worked for nine years as a Manager at the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Inc. (often referred to as “RGGI, Inc.”), overseeing carbon auctions that are held periodically between eight Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that that have pledged to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Prior to joining RGGI, Inc. during its initial formation, she worked in the office of the President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities from 2007 to 2010. Lisa shared her insights about life at a large utility, working on the first organized carbon market in the United States, and advice for young women hoping to advance their careers.
Shelly: Lisa, thank you for joining me. What first inspired you to start a career in the field of energy?
Lisa: I have always had an interest in public policy, community issues, and how to provide basic services to the public. Energy fits into that arena. The opportunities change, and technology develops, but we still are working toward providing a basic service to our community.
With my first job under from New Jersey BPU president of Jean Fox, I was inserted at high level, and I was able to have a hand in everything the agency was doing. I think this entry point as a generalist kept me interested and wanting to keep working in the field of energy.
Shelly: Let’s talk about your most recent career move. When you moved from RGGI, Inc. to start working at Con Edison, what was it like to switch from working at a small nonprofit to a large utility company?
Lisa: It was definitely a culture shift. But the Board of RGGI, Inc. incorporates utility engagement and involves state Public Service Commissioners, so in a sense, I still work within the same area of the industry. What was surprising about the move was how many administrative processes are built within a utility. There is also more to learn, and the work is fewer niches – there are always a lot of other topics going on besides your own focus area. An added benefit of a larger company is that there are more people to get coffee with!
Shelly: What lessons from your past job are most applicable to your new position?
Lisa: Stakeholder engagement still plays a big role in my current position. It is so important for the success of a program to engage stakeholders, both internal and external, as well as across departments within an organization, and to get buy-in for your program. RGGI had an open stakeholder process, and we were always changing the process, always getting public feedback. The 2012 Program Review [which resulted in, among other changes, lowered region-wide emissions targets to reflect changing economy-wide trends] incorporated these methods and was one of the hallmarks of RGGI’s success.
That said, at Con Edison, there is the advantage of institutional knowledge within the company. There is no need to “reinvent the wheel”. It’s not like building the nation’s first carbon programs, which we were doing when RGGI was first starting up.
Shelly: Describe a typical day at the office.
Lisa: For context, I am a Project Manager in the Residential Customer Solutions group, and we run the Residential Electric and Gas Energy Efficiency Program, which offers 1) appliance recycling, 2) appliance rebates (like for fridges, dishwashers, clothes washers), and 3) a program for boilers and thermostats, both electric and gas. I supervise a small team of staff that help me with program oversight as well as invoicing and accounts payable.
Every day is different at my job. Weekly, I meet with other Program Managers, discuss program goals, look at numbers for goals, and explore where opportunities are. We are always checking to see what strategy is working. I help with the 2016 Marketing Plan, enhancing our online presence, and creating print materials for our programs. We also have call centers to deal with customer concerns and needs. I spent a lot of time tracking contractors and coordinating with other Con Edison employees. We use email a lot for tracking to see if we are holding up any part of the process. The most fun days for me are the strategy days, where we think about future development and learn best practices of other programs.
Shelly: What part of your job do you find most interesting?
Lisa: With the activity under the New York REV [i.e., Reforming the Energy Vision] proceeding at the Public Service Commission, the importance of energy efficiency programs has increased, so it is an interesting time to be here. There will be impacts that come out of the REV pilot programs, and some may fall on residential programs. For example, the Commission has approved our Opower pilot marketplace, which should help with ease of use of the programs. Customers can apply online, and we can gain greater system efficiency. Program rebates can be gained through partnerships with midstream retailers like Home Depot, which helps to market energy efficiency to people already planning to upgrade their appliances. The utility owns the program, but tracking program impacts could be issue, possibly on a regulatory issue.
Shelly: How do you think utilities could improve to become better businesses?
Lisa: It is important to keep a large organization nimble, while acknowledging certain constraints. Having certain procedures in place is needed, of course. Making an effort to educate your colleagues and providing briefing on other departments could help improve coordination across a company. “Lunch & learns” are helpful, as are Con Edison’s organized technical seminars, and promoting widespread availability of presentations to company staff.
Shelly: What advice do you have for women just starting or wanting to advance their careers in the field of energy?
Lisa: This is a great time for opportunities in the industry. Share information and take it upon yourself to learn more. Find opportunities in your organization for networking. Take time for your own career development, and have big picture goals, which will be positive for your growth potential. Don’t get bogged down in day-to-day, as what will be important is not necessarily about what is just happening today.
Women can be advocates for each other and we should look to support other women. Keep in mind that doing something with a little bit of risk can help propel your career forward. Think about moving laterally, not just upward.