By Susan Abahazy
I held my first Community Energy Conversation after a brainstorming meeting about how to contact diverse groups of people and invite their participation. I decided that my neighbors were a diverse group. I invited the following: The mechanic who had owned his own repair shop and raced any motorized vehicle that would go fast, the retired engineer and his wife (who had worked in the home raising the kids one of whom had a severe physical handicap), and the software designer who owns his own company. I thought this was diverse enough. In fact, as I thought about it, I began to have some trepidation about how the conversation would go. I know them all and they do not think the same way. I was worried that maybe I had done too good of a job with the diversity factor. I wasn't sure how the conversation would go or if I could control it if opinions flared and we had a heated discussion. I have no formal background in energy and I knew I wasn’t an expert; I was just interested in making a better energy future.
I need not have worried. While the starting points and personal experiences were different, the concerns and hopes regarding energy use and production were very similar. The questions really allowed everyone to open up about themselves and their ideas about energy. I learned a lot about my neighbors that I didn't know and for this I am grateful. As the conversation unfolded, we found that the conclusions were the same from all perspectives – energy efficiency and renewable energies pay for themselves, produce more health for humans and the environment, and help the economy. This was a bit of a surprise for everyone. One participant summed it up nicely by saying that we were spokes on the same wheel coming from different directions but ending at the same point.
And everyone enjoyed the experience! This was an unexpected benefit. They were excited and found the discussion helpful. I had sample letters and a list of addresses for our governor, state representative and senator asking our elected representatives to complete a plan for our state that includes more energy efficiency and renewable energies. They took these home and sent them. I was worried about this too since we didn't do it at the meeting, but everyone followed through. I have a new list of neighbors to talk to and invite to another meeting. I will also follow up with the first crew and see if they can recommend people they know (friends, church or other groups) that would be interested in participating in a conversation.