In 2007, Annie Henderson was living in San Diego, running a solar water heater pilot program for the Center for Sustainable Energy. The program was overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), where her manager was a mid-level staffer named Nick Chaset.
Fast forward a decade, and Chaset, now the CEO of the newly-forming East Bay Community Energy, hired Henderson as Vice President of Marketing and Account Services.
In the interim, Henderson had become a startup specialist, launching new energy finance programs across the country.
Those startup skills are proving valuable as EBCE itself starts up, with new programs and services, and new member cities.
“EBCE is my first foray in the utility world, but the team has lots of experience with utilities and regulators,” she notes. “I’ve built new things from the ground up. That’s my value add.”
Henderson’s interest in clean energy started in college at the University of Pennsylvania, when she spent time in 1999 studying abroad in Kenya. There she lived in an off-grid site, powered by solar panels, and got excited about appropriate technology. The 9-11 terrorist attacks and subsequent Gulf War underscored the perils of dependence on fossil fuels.
She returned to America to study geology in grad school at UC Santa Cruz. But while she loved the science of geology, she saw that the main career path for graduates was the oil industry. “All the recent grads were moving to Houston to work as oil geologists,” she recalls.
Instead she dropped out of grad school to work for a family-run solar startup in San Francisco, before moving on to San Diego. After a few years she came back to the Bay Area to work with Renew Financial, based in Oakland.
Renew was a pioneer in the area of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing. PACE allows a business or homeowner to finance energy improvements by taking a loan out against the value of the property, and paying it back on their property tax bill.
The idea is credited to Cisco Devries, the former chief of staff for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who made Berkeley the first city to offer PACE financing, in 2008. Devries later formed Renew Financial to take the idea national.
At Renew Financial, Henderson served as Vice President of the residential PACE programs, and started up a host of new initiatives, including two PACE programs in California and one statewide program in Florida. The first, called CaliforniaFIRST, started in 2009 and is now the biggest PACE program in the country.
As of 2018, PACE had been used to finance $5.6 billion of residential projects and $1.1 billion on commercial buildings across the country. California is the largest market, with 10 PACE programs.
“I really like to start new things, that’s my comfort zone,” says Henderson. “I’m used to working in the gray area where things have not been done before.”
Starting up EBCE
Henderson is bringing the same startup expertise to EBCE.
“CCAs are pretty new, still an evolving market,” she says. “That’s exciting.”
As VP of Marketing and Account Services, her work is guided by the “three pillars” that are at the heart of EBCE’s philosophy — a commitment to bringing value to customers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reinvesting in the communities.
“My focus is on the customer experience,” she says. “That means marketing and outreach to communicate with customers, account billing and call center oversight, and public engagement with our city partners.”
“So the three guiding principles are always informing our decisions.”
Her newest startup project is extending EBCE service to Newark, Tracy, and Pleasanton. Their applications to join were approved by CPUC on March 5th, with the goal of enrolling customers in 2021.
“Newark and Pleasanton were part of the steering committee for the Joint Powers Agreement before EBCE launched, so have very much been in the loop,” says Henderson. “They saw that we could deliver savings and greenhouse gas reductions, so they were ready to come on board.”
The three cities will add about 1 terawatt-hour (a billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity demand to the six terawatt-hours used by current customers. With their addition all of Alameda County will be participating in EBCE, except for the City of Alameda which has a city-owned utility.
“I love the idea of a CCA being very local, you can get your hands around it, and do something with it,” she says. “It’s nice to help the community.”