Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, second from right, speaks at a news conference at the Opera House on Merchants Row in Rutland on Friday.
RUTLAND — The state’s largest utility and two Rutland area nonprofit groups are moving in together.
“We have a great DNA in Vermont in that we work together,” said Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell. “It’s what we do as a state. ... What’s different about this is we’re actually moving in together into the same space and developing a level of collaboration I haven’t seen before.”
A crowd of media and local figures packed GMP’s temporary Energy Innovation Center in the Opera House on Friday morning as Powell announced that NeighborWorks of Western Vermont and Efficiency Vermont would share space with the utility when the permanent Energy Innovation Center opens across the street.
Powell said the three groups will offer one-stop shopping for home and business owners who want to better manage their energy use. Beyond that, she said, they will contribute to one another’s projects, with each organization improving the operation of the others.
“We’re not dealing separately with customers talking about the same thing, but creating one combined army,” she said.
Powell noted the open-office environment in the Opera House and said such space encourages collaboration, teamwork and efficiency. By sharing such a space, she said, the three organizations will become “the model of efficiency” both in physical terms and in how they operate.
“The piece that is going to happen, because I’ve seen it happen over and over again, is that we’re also going to get smarter and more strategic in our thinking,” Powell said.
“That’s the exciting part of innovations,” she added. “When you bring people together with differing areas of expertise, what you find is they leverage each other and you wind up doing things you wouldn’t have thought of.”
Powell said she intends to make Rutland a regional model for thinking about energy from a comprehensive perspective.
“We’re an unlikely partner and extremely honored and privileged to be a partner,” said Ludy Biddle, executive director of NeighborWorks.
Biddle said she will have “energy advisers” working out of the center, giving personal time to customers.
“It’ll be easier to find us here and I hope people will stop in as they’re shopping in downtown Rutland,” she said.
NeighborWorks is not leaving its West Rutland office, Biddle said. While details of her organization’s presence at the Energy Innovation Center are still being worked out, Biddle said she expected to have at least two people there.
Efficiency Vermont is based in Chittenden County but maintains a five-person office on North Main Street. Director James Merriam said those personnel would come downtown.
“As much as we can put people out in the field, it’s the most efficient thing to do,” he said. “I see Rutland County as a critical hub for southern Vermont.”
Merriam said locating downtown would increase the group’s visibility, which was a problem for efficiency efforts.
“When you drive by a solar panel, you know it’s out there,” he said. “When you drive by a building that’s insulated, you don’t see it’s insulated.”
Steve Costello, GMP’s vice president for generation and energy innovation, said the cleanup at the future site of the Energy Innovation Center, which had housed an office supply store and had issues with asbestos and mold, was under way. The first and second floors were clean, and work crews were in the basement, where the worst of the problems were.
“They still have five, six, seven weeks of cleanup,” he said. “By then we’ll have a great shell to start working with.”
Costello said Thursday was the deadline for bids to serve as the project’s construction manager and that GMP got eight strong bids from Vermont companies.
“This building has been a boil on Rutland’s butt for too long,” he said. “We’re going to lance it.”
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