By Michael Behm, Senior Vice President
The state energy officials meeting this week in Annapolis, Maryland can barely hide their giddiness. Almost 50 more people showed up this morning than expected to register for the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) 2009 annual meeting. Add those people to the 200 or so pre-registered attendees for the meeting – staff typically count around 120 for this particular meeting – and you have NASEO’s largest attended conference ever, at the end of a summer season during which almost every other state and local officials group has witnessed their attendance decline.
The states’ energy officials have never been busier. Nearly $37 billion in primarily ARRA-related funding is being directed by the federal Department of Energy to these officials’ state energy offices around the country in the form of support to State Energy Programs (SEP), Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBGs), Weatherization programs and Energy Star incentives. Sessions attempting to demystify the ARRA funding challenges are stacked on top of each other. The candid meetings feature overworked SEOs complaining about “capacity” issues standing in the way of getting money out the door, ambitious federal deadlines and uncompromising DOE officials.
I am only hours into this meeting today (I am writing this on Monday), but my initial observation is that this NASEO program is substantive with regard to ARRA process detail, the program affords plenty opportunities for Q & A at the issue sessions (maybe too much; they are falling behind schedule) and – maybe, most importantly for those closely following stimulus funding – lot’s of access. The meeting is thick with state officials, DOE and Administration representatives. Access abounds to the participating SEOs; access to the DOE officials; and access to the panel experts, many of whom concede they are being stymied by the funding challenges. Public official attendance – again, mostly state energy officials – far outnumbers those of us from the private sector.
Another group to consider adding to the alphabet soup of organizations already in the purview of your government affairs program? If you care about ARRA-related energy spending, you should give it serious consideration. While never in the “backwater” of the traditional state and local officials groups, NASEO and its members have never enjoyed the attention they are now receiving. Suddenly these officials have become VIPs on the state stage and the stewards of an enormous amount of federal spending. One SEO remarked that his senate majority leader now knew his name.