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Irene Stillings came late to her leadership position as an advocate of energy conservation. As executive director of the California Center for Sustainable Energy, a nonprofit organization based in San Diego, she advocates for, administers and oversees various initiatives, both government and private, that promote the development of environmental-friendly forms of energy. The CCSE is also a leading player in continuing efforts designed to bring about a clean energy future.

But her career began in upstate New York working for a local gas and electric utility company in the mid-1970s, mostly in marketing, customer service and organizational development. She stayed there for 20 years before leaving to do consulting, primarily in the energy field, and then moved to southern California, where she ended up working in the San Diego Regional Energy Office that soon after became the CCSE.

“I’ve always had a strong interest in the environment and what we are doing to it as humans,” she says. “Rachel Carson’s book 'The Silent Spring' had a great impact on me in the sixties.”

In San Diego, the time was right for an organization like the CCSE. Beginning in the 1970s, there had been a continuing series of conflicts between community groups and the local gas and electric utility. Energy deregulation came to California in 1994, and in 1996 the CCSE was born. By then, attitudes in the state had begun to change.

“California is ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to environmental awareness,” Stillings says, “but look at the environment here. It’s just a wonderful place. People spend a great deal of time outdoors, and they avail themselves of all these natural resources in terms of outdoor and leisure time activity, so naturally, environmental concern and awareness are higher.”

The CCSE has several ongoing programs in collaboration with state and local governments. The California Solar Initiative, established by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007, aims at creating one million solar panels by 2017. MASH, or the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing program, aims at retrofitting low-income multifamily accommodations, mostly apartment buildings, with rooftop solar panels that power individual apartments. In addition, there are programs for retrofitting single-family homes in California, 70 percent of which were built before 1980 and the adoption of stringent energy codes.

What Stillings would like to see is comprehensive and consistent national energy policies and legislation supporting them from Washington. But with the political dysfunction and gridlock in D.C., she realizes, such legislation is a long way off. “I’m a capitalist,” she adds. “I worked most of my life in profit-making companies. I’m not against people making money. I just think they can do it without harming natural resources, and it won’t take that much effort either.”

For more information, please visit: www.energycenter.org
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