(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown today announced the appointment of Janine Benner as Director of the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE), which is responsible for leading Oregon to a safe, clean, and sustainable future, including addressing critical issues like climate change.
“Janine is an innovative leader with a wealth of experience in management, energy policy, and climate change,” Governor Brown said. “Her background and expertise will well serve the agency and further our ongoing efforts to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions in Oregon while keeping energy reliable and affordable.”
An Oregon native, Benner joined ODOE in February 2017 after more than 16 years in Washington, D.C. Before ODOE, Benner was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. Department of Energy, where she was the Associate Assistant Secretary at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for House Affairs. Prior to that, she served as an advisor to Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer for over a decade, most recently as his Deputy Chief of Staff. Benner earned her Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University.
Benner has served as Acting Director of ODOE since October 2017, following the departure of Michael Kaplan. Pending confirmation by the Senate, Benner’s appointment is effective Jan. 2, 2018.
During an interview DOE Director Benner shared some observations she has about Oregon’s efforts to make Oregon energy savvy in doing its share in reversing climate change:
Any first impressions on the difference between doing energy policy at the federal level versus the state level?
With the federal government likely to pull back on action in clean energy and climate change, it’s more important than ever that states like Oregon continue to make progress. ODOE helps make sure we stay in the lead but in a way that works for all Oregonians. At the federal level, I thought a lot about research and development priorities and market transformation. Here in Oregon, the market is transforming right in front of our eyes, and ODOE plays a big role in that. The agency brings people together, facilitating conversations and contributing thoughtful and creative ideas about what the goals should be and how to get there.
Which projects at the Oregon Department of Energy are you most excited about today?
Well, I hesitate to pick favorites, and I’m excited about everything that ODOE works on, but I like the big picture – the more proactive projects that are part of our strategic plan, such as figuring out how to integrate distributed generation and exploring a path to net-zero energy buildings. I feel lucky to be part of the conversation about solving Oregon’s energy challenges. I’m especially excited about what’s happening related to climate change and working with stakeholders to figure out how we’re going to meet Oregon’s ambitious goals.
In many ways, 2017 was a big year for ODOE – with some major transitions and milestones. In other ways, we continued the steady and necessary behind-the-scenes work to build on the progress of the past few years. Both give us high hopes for 2018.
Over the last year, ODOE:
Released the state’s first comprehensive Fuel Action Plan, which outlines how we’ll help the state respond to severe or long-term petroleum shortages
Received and reviewed the state’s first utility-scale solar electricity facility application to the Energy Facility Siting Council
Worked with the Legislature on a bill that directs our agency to develop a new Biennial Energy Report, and, following passage, launched a public engagement push to shape the new report
Awarded more than $2 million in renewable energy grants to projects across the state, from a solar installation outside of Vale to biogas projects in Bend and The Dalles
Launched a new website, which has received more than half a million page views, and a new podcast series, with more than a dozen episodes covering everything from ODOE’s role overseeing the Hanford cleanup to schools generating their own renewable energy
Continued our leadership on new statewide options for Home Energy Performance scoring systems, which help home buyers, sellers, real estate professionals, and renters better understand a home’s energy use.
Some of our work in 2017 was anticipated and planned for – such as a comprehensive effort to ensure the state had enough transportation fuel to serve visitors to Oregon here for the total solar eclipse. Other activities were a surprise, like the May tunnel collapse at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington, which prompted us to activate our agency operations center to respond to potential impacts to Oregon. Thankfully, our emergency preparation training kicked in, guiding our careful and composed responses.
Once again, ODOE’s submission to the American Council on an Energy-Efficient Economy on behalf of Oregon’s energy efficiency efforts earned our state a high ranking – number five for 2017, which continues a streak of 11 years in the top 10. Already eyeing our 2018 submission, we worked with the Building Codes Division on a revision to the state’s residential energy code and led trainings for contractors, building industry professionals, and utilities to help people understand the changes. And we offered technical assistance leading up to Governor Brown’s signing, in November, of an Executive Order outlining energy efficiency-related goals and metrics for state agencies to keep up the pace.
Also in November, Governor Brown issued an electric vehicles Executive Order, with specific direction for ODOE to collaborate with other state agencies as we support Oregonians making the switch to plug-in technology. This has been an increasing focus for ODOE’s transportation and climate team; expect to hear plenty more from us on this front over the next 12 months.
Throughout 2018, we’ll also continue our efforts related to energy resiliency. This past year, we worked closely with Central Lincoln PUD on a National Governors Association project designed to improve local energy resiliency. To that end, we held a policy workshop in Newport while starting to develop a roadmap that will help utilities and communities plan, prepare for, and recover from major events that threaten the delivery of electricity. Building on this work, just a few weeks ago, we hosted a cross-sector resiliency planning workshop for public agencies, utilities, private companies, and nonprofits to discuss challenges and share strategies.
Perhaps the most notable event of 2017 was the sunset of most of the agency’s energy incentive programs. ODOE has been issuing tax credits since the early 1980s, helping multiple generations of Oregonians embrace energy efficiency, renewable energy, and conservation. Incentive programs have been key to fostering renewable, home-grown energy while avoiding the construction of new power plants. These programs had significant flaws, however, and there’s no denying that legacy problems associated with tax credits affect our agency today. We haven’t shied away from those problems, nor have we missed an opportunity to take responsibility for them. But throughout 2017, we advocated for the programs to end because we believe it’s time to reconsider how our agency and the state overall support energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals. We’ll contribute to that conversation in any way we can.
On a more personal note, I came to ODOE at the beginning of 2017, excited to be back in Oregon and eager to get to work on interesting and complex energy policies that affect the whole state. I end the year no less enthusiastic, but in a broader role. As the newly appointed director of the Oregon Department of Energy, I lead a team of 85 professionals committed to serving the state. Our work is guided by the knowledge that Oregon’s energy future depends on a strong and healthy energy department.
For the past few years, the ODOE team has pursued strategies to improve our services and strengthen the core work of the agency. From stakeholder engagement to budget management to programmatic work, we’ve learned from the past without letting the narratives of the past define us. There is always room to improve, and we look at that as an opportunity and a challenge – the kind of challenge that keeps my team motivated as we focus on energy policy, energy facility siting, emergency preparedness, and more.
We’ll need all the motivation we can muster as our agency steps up to help Oregon face the energy challenges of the 21st century – including the threats of climate change and the urgent need for statewide energy resiliency. It’s an honor to serve Oregon in this role, a privilege to lead the smart and dedicated team at ODOE, and a pleasure to get to work with all of you as our state takes on pressing energy issues in 2018 and beyond.
Janine Benner, Director
Oregon Department of Energy