Nathalie McLauchlin loves saving energy so much that she even enjoys paying her customers to make it happen. At her day job as director of program operations, conservation and demand management for Alectra Utilities, she leads a team of 27 people who lower power use in Central Ontario any way they can: installing LED lights in a local dentist’s office or new energy efficient refrigeration parts for your favourite restaurant. In her off time, you might catch her picking up her kids or volunteering as a board member of the Ontario Chapter of the Association of Energy Services Professionals. During a small break in her busy schedule, we caught up with McLauchlin to ask why she’s passionate about helping people use less energy.
You studied engineering. Did you always plan on working in the energy sector?
Before my engineering degree, I did in an architectural technology degree. I ended up going into engineering, thinking that my strengths would play better on the engineering side than the artistic side. I didn’t have a vision of being in the electricity sector or the energy sector, but it’s funny—my first job related to energy was a summer job at Hydro-Québec where I was looking at energy efficiency programs for all electric customers. I found that really interesting. Now even 20 years later, I have been working on energy efficiency programs on a day-to-day basis. Early on I just dipped my toe in and enjoyed it.
How did you get from there to where you are now?
My first job out of university I worked for Johnson Controls, installing controls to help customers control their energy use. My next job was with Direct Energy, and it was pretty similar, but with a whole building approach to energy efficiency. Having worked pretty closely with the Ontario Power Authority, I got recruited to the OPA itself.
I was at the OPA for a few years and then decided I needed to work a little bit closer to home. I am a mom with two kids and the travel downtown was a bit hard on my family and myself.
Alectra has one million customers—tell us about your impact on Central Ontario.
Our electricity savings goal at Alectra is 1.6 terawatt hours. We don’t get to say terawatt-hours very often. Seven terawatt hours is Ontario’s Conservation First Framework target, so we’re over 20 per cent of that.
I could actually say that I’m affecting a million customers. We are offering programs to all our customers. Some participate more than others, some participate over and over again, and some are harder to convince that this is the right thing to do, but in the end, we are able to work with all our customers.
What are the benefits? How do you convince customers it’s the right thing to do?
The benefits are different for every single consumer. What I would say to a homeowner is not the same as what I would say to a large business user, an industrial customer, a restaurant or a small business owner. If I’m replacing all the lighting in a dentist office or in a boutique using high-efficiency LEDs, I’m reducing their electricity cost, but also at the same time I’m improving the look of what they have in their facility or how a dentist can see doing their work. By reducing electricity use, I can effectively make more funds available to increase the number of beds in a hospital or by improving a facility’s efficiency improve a business’s bottom line.
What’s the best part of your job?
I have the pleasure of signing a whole bunch of cheques for our customers. I kind of have the best job. I pay for energy savings, giving money to our customers to save energy and upgrade their facility. I feel I have the ability to change a business, helping to make their business more efficient. We have some customers we’ve worked so closely with. They have participated in many of our programs and have made their business more competitive. They’re trying new technologies. They keep on looking for opportunities to save, and they are advancing the success of their company. Because we’re helping them out, that to me feels really good.