Green Giants: Nonprofit Energy Alliance

Creating a Windfall for Charities.

By: Leslie Milk

Suzan Jenkins, CEO of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, admits she'd never used "kilowatt" in a sentence before council member Roger Berliner challenged her to come up with an idea to help grantees handle ballooning energy costs.

Jenkins contacted a colleague at Nonprofit Montgomery, and the two met with Eric Coffman of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. Their discussion led to a light-bulb moment: What if nonprofits banded together to buy energy at a volume discount?

The Nonprofit Energy Alliance, launched in May 2010, has helped 50 local organizations save a combined $366,000 on electric bills. The coalition chose to buy its energy from Clean Currents, a local provider that gets energy from wind power.

The alliance is a joint effort of the Montgomery Arts & Humanities Council, Nonprofit Montgomery, and the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington. Not only are the participating groups using green energy, but they have more resources to provide services at a time when funding sources are harder to find.

It's been a valuable educational process for nonprofit managers and the Alliance, says Jenkins: "We understood economies of scope and scale, but we also learned that there were right times to buy energy to save more."

The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless expects to save $30,000 in energy costs; the National Capital Trolley Museum can make both its streetcars and its donors' dollars go farther.

The Alliance has just launched an effort to double the number of participants. Says Jenkins: "For nonprofits, it's a huge windfall."

This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.