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The History of AESP
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The History of AESP

 


In 1990, while America was busying itself learning the Hammer Dance and questioning why they could not touch this, a small cadre of demand-side management (DSM) professionals were changing the way their industry connects, communicates, and moves forward.

The Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) is celebrating a fruitful 25 years of providing its membership with a well-regarded platform for networking and learning opportunities; not to mention being, in the words of Elliot Boardman, a former executive director, “one of the most enjoyable groups of people one could ask for.”

Originally named the Association of Demand-Side Management Professionals (ADSMP), AESP began rather humbly as a response to an absence of representation for those in the business of demand-side management. In 1989, association founder Bill LeBlanc was working at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and was sent to the first speaking engagement of his career at an industry conference. His session was poorly attended and LeBlanc later discovered that those at this particular conference were fairly apathetic about the work of DSM.

This led LeBlanc to question why DSM did not have an association to call its own.

“After asking around, I was told simply that nobody has ever really thought about it before,” says LeBlanc. “But nobody I spoke to ever said that there was a reason not to do it.”


Shaping the Industry

At the urging of his boss, Clark Gellings, then vice president at EPRI, LeBlanc took it upon himself to put together his concept of what a DSM association would look like and presented his strategy at the National Demand-Side Management Conference organized by EPRI in May 1989. Unlike what hap-pened at his first career speaking gig, LeBlanc found this audience to be much more receptive to what he was saying.

“I was presenting on an overhead projector to about 20 people who showed up to listen,” says LeBlanc.

“They were watching and nodding their heads, telling me that it sounded like a good idea. Afterward, I went back to this group and the vast majority of those in attendance agreed to be part of a steering committee moving forward. More meetings just kept adding to our concept and, by the time we had written everything out onto large pieces of paper and poster board, we had framed out our mission statement, what the association was going to be, and what it would initially offer its members.”

“The founding board was so enthusiastic that, even after a full day of wrangling over issues and products we would be able to provide, we’d continue long into the night,” says Patrice Ignelzi, the association’s first executive director.

“The lines between work and fun were sure blurry because the group’s passion powered us.”


Growing from the Ground Up

Working part-time from her office in Albany, CA, with a staff of two, Ignelzi’s first assignment as executive director was to seek out utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, and the Electric Power Research Institute, then solicit five to ten thousand dollars from each as seed money to help get the association off the ground. The fact that the association was able to raise close to $50,000 was an exceptional feat, since the utilities being approached were not able to join ADSMP (as a corporate entity) at that time.

“We, as the Board, had agreed to make ADSMP an organization for individuals only,” says Ignelzi. “It was an interesting concept to promote and, remarkably, it worked!”

The utilities realized that by sponsoring the start-up of ADSMP, they could better meet any upcoming changes in public policy by being able to pull from a deep and experienced pool of knowledgeable DSM practitioners. They knew that by supporting ADSMP, they were also investing in being able to get things done faster and more efficiently than if left to their own devices. 

Through a mailing campaign, ADSMP began circulating information to DSM professionals and quickly realized that there was a groundswell of enthusiasm in the field towards the building of the association. An annual charter member price of $50 and regular membership of $75 was set and, before long, checks were arriving in the mail en masse to be part of the organization. The association had struck a chord, and before the first month was over, the ADSMP had grown to over 500 members. The association held its first conference in Orlando in December 1990. After this, it did not take long for ADSMP to grow even further.

In 1993, Elliot Boardman and his wife Pat, of ACE Management, Inc., became the management organization for ADSMP and relocated the association to Boca Raton, FL. Under their guidance, AESP membership prospered, evolved, sputtered, and then prospered again.

“We started the Brown Bag webinar series before webinars became common and WebEx existed,” says Boardman, executive director of the association from 1993 to 2006. “These webinars actual-ly saved AESP from bankruptcy in the crucial time when DSM was deemed unpopular within the utility industry.”

“Another idea, which was Pat’s, was to offer group memberships in ADSMP,” says Boardman. Prior to this, member-ships were for individuals only. This proved very successful in increasing revenue and bringing in new members to the point where AESP now has more members within groups than from individual memberships.”


Promoting a Powerhouse

In 2006, with the departure of the Boardmans, AESP selected Meg Matt, of The Matt Group, to oversee the association. Less than one year later, she became an employee of AESP, changing the management structure and marking a major step in the growth of the association, as AESP was now managed by employees, rather than contractors.

“This was a huge decision for the board,” says Matt. “Together, we worked out a budget that allowed us to hire and retain talented professionals who were eager to build AESP into the powerhouse it has become today.”

Under Matt’s leadership, and with strategic guidance from the board, AESP was able to establish a number of notable new policies and offerings during her eight years at the helm.

The association added a third annual conference, to better reflect the interests of the association’s membership. As the association grew, Canadian utilities began attending AESP conferences and becoming members in greater numbers. Finally, in 2011, interest from Canadians reached the point that it led to the launch of a chapter in Ontario, Canada and AESP’s first Canadian conference in Toronto in the summer of 2012. It was such a hit that the association will be holding another summer conference this August in majestic Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Development and training have always been a big part of AESP. From the early days of ADSMP, the association developed and offered training to its members. AESP began to expand training courses in 2008 by offering training courses on demand-side management.

The association quickly followed that with courses on Evaluation, Measurement & Verification (EM&V), Marketing, Leadership and Behavior Change. AESP began offering CEUs for training and conferences that are certified under the ANSI/IACET Standard in 2010.


Overcoming Challenges

While there have been many successes over the last 30 years, it is also true there have been several challenges for the association to overcome, many of which came from structural and policy changes in the utility business. As the perceived value of, and interest in, DSM rose and fell, so did the organization’s membership and financial security. The association built itself a bridge, so to speak, to overcome these troubled waters by responding to businesses’ interests and reinventing itself over time.

“Starting in 1994, the energy efficiency industry hit a major snag as California decided to deregulate its utilities and the concept of deregulation seemed to spread across the United States,” says Boardman.

 “Demand-side management became a dirty word at many utilities so the ADSMP Board wisely decided at this time to change the name of the association and AESP was chosen in 1995.”

The association found itself struggling until the early 2000s, due to changes in energy efficiency policies and mandates in the field of DSM. Membership had fallen to around 700 and attendance at association conferences became quite low. How-ever, in the years since then, membership has continued to grow as the association continues to adapt, with membership rising to over 2,200.

In 2015 after the departure of Meg Matt, John Hargrove stepped into the office as the new President and CEO.


Coming to Fruition

Looking back over the last 30 years, the association reflects on what it has grown into through the efforts of its past directors, staff and members. Like a rolling stone, AESP has gathered no moss and will continue to roll into the future, still striving to pursue the interests of its membership in energy efficiency and DSM.

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