Rob Phocas became Charlotte, N.C.'s energy and sustainability manager in April. Now that he's had time to settle in, the Energy Blog asked him what energy plans Charlotte has lined up and how he goes about his job of overseeing 17 energy-related American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded projects, awarded under an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant in the amount of $6.78 million.
A: One thing we've been working on recently is reaching out to the community to get energy partners — nonprofits, businesses. They helped us think through and create our plan for the Block Grant money. So now we're looking to leverage their resources.
Q: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as energy and sustainability manager?
For example, the Neighborhood Energy Challenge is where we're trying to get neighbors to compete against one another in making their homes more energy efficient. We're also working with Charlotte Center City Partners, a nonprofit focused on the vitality of the business district of Charlotte, to bring electric vehicle charging stations downtown. We're also working with them to bring recycling receptacles to the business district and to find ways to reach larger audiences with our sustainability message.
Q: What are your primary goals for Charlotte?
A: We've taken to heart the Department of Energy's message of using the block grant as seed money or starter funds for projects that can live on once the money is spent. We're doing this by getting people and businesses interested. We're using the Recovery Act money to drive a conversation in Charlotte that we think will last a long time.
Q: What changes have you noticed in the past couple of years in the energy sector?
A: I think, especially in Charlotte, there is a lot of enthusiasm and interest in the environment and in energy topics. The city has undertaken the goal of becoming the new energy capital of the country. We're trying to attract businesses focused on energy — from nuclear to renewables.
We've seen people come out and be more willing to collaborate and move the city forward to this goal and to also incorporate energy efficiency. Just the number of people at the table discussing issues has really increased. And we're starting to harness that in the community.
Q: Is getting Charlotte residents involved all about education?
A: That's one of the most important parts. Some of our budget from the Block Grant is allocated for an education and outreach campaign — it's crucial. One of the reasons energy has received more interest over the past year or so is because people realize there's a savings there. There might be an upfront cost, but in the end, there will be savings.
It was tough getting everyone to buy into the environmental benefits — which are real and tangible. But when there's a business case to be made, it helps get the message across to people. This movement comes down to behavioral change, which happens through education.
Q: How do you want Charlotte to be known in the future?
A: We want to be a national leader in the environmental area, which includes energy. We should be known for the way we are developing partnerships, and I think our strategy can be a model for other municipalities. You have to realize you can't tackle every problem by yourself — there's a lot of good work to be done by all kinds of different organizations in the community.