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Finding Efficient & Cost-Effective Ways to Reduce Energy Load in New Orleans

As a FUSE Executive Fellow, Priya Dey-Sarkar (2017-19) worked with the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO) to reduce its carbon footprint by finding efficient and cost-effective ways to reduce its energy load. She helped increase operational reliability through increasing data visibility, launched risk-prioritized power reliability frameworks, and created safety programs for a complex power and pumping network. Following her fellowship, Priya joined NV Energy as a Senior Engineer in gas distribution and operations. In this role, she oversees large distribution infrastructure and provides technical customer service for Reno’s largest accounts, including critical businesses that need reliable and safe gas service. Additionally, she serves as an Advisor on the FUSE Board and teaches yoga and devotional chanting. 

How did your FUSE Fellowship impact you? 

My fellowship completely changed the way that I thought about service and serving others. In the private sector, the government is often considered the bad guy—it’s viewed as slow and opaque. When I moved into government, I gained a great appreciation for how hard our local civil servants and politicians work for the people, and how they want to respond to the public’s needs. It’s inspirational to see the level of dedication at work. What I tell everyone about my fellowship is that one or two people, even in a large city government, can make swift change with enough desire and effort. 

I saw that with Bob Turner, who was my Project Supervisor and Engineering Lead at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. He came on during a dire time in the agency’s history, and quickly became an important leader because of his competence and his commitment to helping residents. Together with a new leadership team, Bob turned around 50 to 60 years of drainage problems in New Orleans. The core issue wasn’t technical, but about staff morale, political will, and financial resources. Our main task was to inspire staff and City leaders again by removing specific obstacles of communication, technology, and silos. Within a couple of years, the agency had turned a solid corner in drainage reliability, and Bob was appointed to be the General Superintendent.

FUSE also provided me with a broader perspective on the context for government and political decisions. I better understand the processes and incentives underlying regulatory decisions and can provide an educated perspective to my colleagues in the private energy industry about how to effectively create lasting change that benefits the public, private, and environment. I also learned that what we often think is a set of competing interests is in fact, just a little bit of communication desperate to be deeply heard and understood. We are way more aligned on common goals than we think. 

What is your current job title? 

I am a Senior Engineer with NV Energy, which serves nearly 400,000 gas customers in Reno and provides electric power to the entire state of Nevada. My main job is to regulate, distribute, and measure gas safely and accurately. To accomplish that, I manage large gas projects and provide technical customer service for large accounts that may require special planning and design. 

Another big part of my life is teach Bhakti, Vinyasa, and sound therapy yoga workshops about once per week. The practice of yoga to me is about self-development and leadership development through conscious body awareness, building mindfulness, and learning to be truly present in everything you do. That is the glue that keeps me able to function at a high rate of productivity.

The skills that I learned through yoga have also helped me enormously in terms of the diversity and racial equity work that I have done as a Fellow and now as a yoga teacher. So many people will challenge you when you push for change, and yoga teaches me to manage my reactions and my stress by being truly present. I am grateful for recent opportunities to participate in an ongoing yoga teacher training with a racial equity focus.

What are the big challenges on which you are working now, and how has your FUSE experience prepared you to approach them?

Since the pandemic started, there has been a lot of unpredictability and instability in energy supply chains, as parts and components became much more difficult to source. It has been a challenge to get ahead of that and meet our customers’ needs. There are a variety of problems you can never anticipate—a familiar issue for FUSE fellows!

Because the pandemic has surged in Nevada at the same time as wildfires have made our air smokey and unhealthy for weeks, we can’t go outside, and we can’t gather inside. Maintaining a sense of health and community here over the next six months will be a huge challenge. How will we take care of our health and wellness, and how do we stay connected to the community?

I’m very interested in how the public sector and the private sector can come together and create solutions for problems from climate change to racial equity to personal wellness. I can see a common thread weaving through these challenges—which seems to be a lack of collective inner peace. There are always political hurdles, but the process of change and healing can be profound. FUSE Fellows and their government hosts have been a living example of this for me—their humility, their sense of service, and their persistence. I continue to be inspired by the people I currently work with at NV Energy and by my FUSE cohort and alumni. Their dedication to public service and ability to create dramatic, lasting change is impressive and effective.

What are you hoping to achieve in the next 6-12 months?

I’m hoping to create significant community and conversation around the silent epidemics plaguing our world—including racism, self-hate, and oppression—which are not only polluting our minds but our planet. Clean energy sources are now viable and economical; we can act on the technical solutions much more easily now than ever before. However, I believe the resistance we encounter on the technical and political fronts starts from inside each one of us as individuals. The more we hold onto negativity on the inside, the more it manifests on the outside in the form of pollution and disaster. I hope to be a guide of change from within more than ever before, from the heart, mind, body, and spirit. 

Related work and news:

Just the Positive: Giving Off Good Energy — Meet Priya Dey-Sarkar

Fox 11: Local yoga organization supports venues, affordable events 

GreenBiz: Amidst a rising sea-level crisis, staying resilient in New Orleans 

Huffpost: The 11:11 Miracle

 

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