Reaching a resolution: Q&A with Maureen Mulligan, Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance



Maureen Mulligan spent 10 years trying to stop a second nuclear power reactor from being built in her neighborhood. She failed, but got a career out of it. 

Ms. Mulligan’‍s advocacy for energy efficiency sprung from a report from the University of Pennsylvania, which had been commissioned by Philadelphia to find an alternative to nuclear power in the 1970s. She received her masters in government administration from the university’‍s Fels Institute of Government in 1990.

“That changed my life and set the direction for working on alternative energy, because that report showed that energy efficiency could replace the need for a second [nuclear] unit,” she said.

Today, her opinions on nuclear energy haven’t changed much.

“I think it’s still an extremely expensive resource and I still feel there are much cleaner, better alternatives out there that are not only a lot less expensive, but don’t have dangerous fuel cycles,” she said.

Ms. Mulligan is the policy director for the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance, a nonprofit that assists utilities with energy conservation goals in response to Pennsylvania’s Act 129 of 2008. The coalition is made up of 62 energy efficiency businesses and is funded by its members and grants.

“Several of us interested in energy efficiency said it’s time Pennsylvania joined the other states that had energy efficiency standards,” Ms. Mulligan said. “That set a lot in motion, and we founded the organization.”

Before joining the alliance, Ms. Mulligan owned her own communications consulting business and served as the division chief for consumer education at the state Public Utility Commission, experience that she said has helped her with advocacy.

“It helped me grow and ultimately allowed me to do my own business because I was able to have the kind of understanding of someone who’s worked in state government for more than 14 years,” Ms. Mulligan said. “It was very consistent with the work I had done before.”

Q: Who has been your most surprising ally?

A: I’ve been really surprised at the national interest in Pennsylvania in terms of what we are doing on different programs. We’re known nationally for fracking, and we’re considered an older industrial state. I didn’t think there’d be that much interest in what we do to comply to upcoming environmental rules.

Q: What is the most frustrating thing about your job?

A: I spend a lot of time looking for the common ground. In other words, trying to see legislators’‍ perspectives on the issues and listen to what they care about. Maybe it wasn’t something that was on my radar particularly, but they feel it’s important. Not everybody gets what they want in a scenario like that, and that’s been one of the hardest things sometimes. You feel like you’re compromising and trying to push for a resolution that’s reasonable, and there’s always people who don’t think anything you’re requesting is reasonable.

Q: Tell me about the most upsetting time you couldn’‍t reach a resolution.

A: The biggest one was the solar industry. Several years ago the industry was exploding and bringing all these jobs and clean energy and more energy independence to Pennsylvania. After the [Advanced Energy Portfolio Standards] bill was passed, an alternative energy fund was passed that triggered a lot of solar activity. The bill was modest compared to the consumer acceptance to solar; as a result there was a lot more solar in the market than utilities could get credit for. When the legislature didn’t increase the amount of solar to the utilities, despite our good track record, it was frustrating to not be able to reach some sort of compromise so that the industry could stay growing instead of going backwards. 

Q: What advice would you give someone looking to get into your profession?

A: When I first started my business, I thought I’d mainly be working with other states that had restructured their energy industries, particularly related to how you notify and protect the public. I was open to other options, which is good, because I probably wouldn’‍t be in business today if I was only open to doing that. I think if you’re starting your own business, you need to think about your real skill set and don’t define it narrowly unless that’s all you really want to do. What makes for a really dynamic business is you look at future trends and try to figure out where you fit.

Q: If you only had 24 hours left to live, how would you spend it?

A: Hang out at my house with my husband and cats. I live on a beautiful farm. I’d have a glass of wine and a good meal and enjoy the beauty around me. I guess that goes back in some ways to my passion for protecting the environment. I think it’s profound to look around and see the beauty, especially when you live on the farm and there’s farm animals.

Q: Where do great ideas come from?

A: The shower? That’s only partly tongue in cheek. I think they come from having dynamic people to brainstorm with. That can be in a press article, in a book, from a co-worker ... I think you draw on a lot of sources. Then of course, great ideas are one thing, but what makes it great? If it’s not grounded in reality from my point of view, from my world — as a person who looks for common ground in the policy world — great ideas are ones that are a little far reaching but achievable.

Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1269. Twitter: @PG_Czebiniak

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