COVID Reflections of BayREN

by BayREN

It is hard to believe that it has been over one year since California shut down to help curb what would become a deadly pandemic that would take the lives of well over 500,000 Americans. While there was certainly a lot of horror, there were also some “COVID silver linings”, good things that resulted from a very bad situation.  As the BayREN program administrator, I share some of my silver linings. 

We are in this together. BayREN is a collaboration of the nine county Bay Area with one member agency representing each county.  The Coordinating Circle (similar to a Board) meets every other month for an all day meeting rotating locations with the host showcasing their county.  I love these meetings and always walk away with pride in the BayREN team and in awe of the work of local governments. During our first several “in-Zoom” meetings our focus in large part was checking in with each other.While we work together professionally, we are also parents, children with aging parents, roommates, etc.  I will never forget asking the group to raise their hand if they were available to support other members, and seeing a screen full of raised hands. The pride that I used to feel at the end of the in person meetings has now only deepened and as an organization, our strength has increased.

Better trained workforce. Several of our programs are contractor driven.  One of our immediate tasks was to determine how we could keep the workforce supported and engaged.  One service that we quickly launched was a Learning Management System that offers 36 no-cost training on energy efficiency and decarbonization.  During the temporary work stoppage, our contractors became more educated resulting in a more skilled workforce when field work resumed.  This also allowed us to continue to engage our contractors in energy efficiency.

Many activities can be done virtually.  One key element of BayREN outreach and training is that they are performed by local government staff, building on the role as trusted messenger.  A huge COVID silver lining was that by having these events on line, we were able to reach more people. In our Codes and Standards and Green Labeling events, for example, we saw a four fold increase in attendance with greater geographic diversity!  Overall, we met or exceeded our program goals and learned new program efficiencies that will likely remain as restrictions are lifted.

Local government budgets restored. Bay Area local governments have been very engaged in climate related activities with an increased focus on decarbonization. COVID required a shift in focus to more immediate health and economic issues.  Many jurisdictions had immediate hiring freezes and priorities were redirected. BayREN attempted to fill in some of the gap by hosting quarterly events to keep climate goals moving forward.  Fortunately, with the passage of the American Rescue Plan that provides funding for local governments, climate activities will resume in earnest.

While this has been an extremely challenging year for us all, I take comfort in the silver linings. 

Written by Jenny Berg, BayREN