Getting to Know WEC Directors Pat Barnes, Olivia Campbell Andersen

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Co-op Currents invites new WEC Directors to talk about the values and experience they bring to the role, how they’ll balance vision and fiscal responsibility, and what drives them to serve fellow members. Profiles do not necessarily represent the values and policy decisions set by WEC’s Board as a whole, but rather the individual perspectives of Board members. In 2024, Pat Barnes and Olivia Campbell Andersen were elected to their first terms (Barnes had been appointed to fill a vacancy in late 2023).

Pat Barnes

Pat Barnes lives in Vershire. The home where he and his spouse raised three children is more than 200 years old. After retiring from his career as a science teacher, his ancient house and interest in energy inspired a new business: providing energy audits and helping people improve their home weatherization. Called C Quester—the “C” stands interchangeably for carbon, comfort, or cost—he identifies “the lowest hanging fruit to help people weatherize, use less carbon, move toward becoming carbon neutral, and be more comfortable.”

He first ran for the Board in 2022, just after he retired from teaching, and was appointed by the Board in 2023. He was motivated to serve because of his concern about “issues of electrical transmission and access,” he said, and the environmental impact of carbon. “If we don’t get a handle on carbon, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, we are in deep, deep trouble. I come as someone trained in science who taught environmental science for my career. I think our solution is to electrify everything,” he said.

Cutting carbon emissions by electrifying everything means electricity needs to be accessible, affordable, and reliable for everyone, he said. “I suspect that means we’ll need distributed generation.” Barnes allowed that he joined the Board assuming he would “rally for more net metering and for policies that would allow behind-the-meter storage. Of course,” he added, “the reality is far more complicated than it appeared from the outside.”

The challenges of distributed generation start with cost: “for the average member,” he said, “it makes their electricity slightly more expensive.” He envisions solutions will need to come through the state and federal legislatures, and sees WEC leadership having a voice in shaping policies to create a stronger, more equitable grid. “Washington Electric Co-op inherited just the most treacherous region, and so few customers per mile; it can’t be expected to solve these problems all on its lonesome,” he said. “We’ll need some legislative help.”

Stemming from his science background, Barnes has a special interest in the gadgetry and circuitry that grids are built on. “I’m really excited about working with JJ [new Director of Special Projects and Innovation JJ Vandette] on the next generation of meters and what that will allow the Co-op to do,” he said. For instance, Barnes knows there are devices in his home that draw a lot of power, and could be programmed to charge during the night when demand is down, which would help to reduce WEC members’ peak costs. Advanced meters provide data that inform that kind of innovation.

Barnes is generous with praise for WEC staff. “People like to complain about their electric service when they get their bill or when the power goes out,” he said, but when he was teaching, his school was served by a different utility, two miles from his WEC-served home at the end of a spur. He realized the school power tended to go out more often and for longer durations than his power at home. As a result, he said, “I have a front row seat to say, our line crews are doing great work. I often try to express to folks, ‘when your power is out it’s terribly frustrating, but the WEC system is working pretty well.’” 

He is also impressed with his fellow Board members. “They are smart, thoughtful, capable people who are trying to do really good work by the Co-op,” he said. Honored to join a Board tackling such complex issues, he said, “I hope I can be useful.”

Olivia Campbell Andersen

Olivia Campbell Andersen lives with her family on a regenerative farm in East Montpelier. She works leading transportation electrification policy for the eastern US for ABB E-mobility, a global EV charging technology company, and has previous policy experience in federal government and with Vermont’s legislature and Public Utility Commission, as the former head of Renewable Energy Vermont. She brings that policy background, along with a farmer’s perspective on weather, to the Board.

The three issues that led her to run, she said, reflect her personal experience on her farm and what she hears from fellow members. “Those issues are reliability and communications, affordability, and adapting for the challenges we’re facing from climate change,” she explained. Her experience with communications and with new tech that supports climate resilience, she said, can help the Co-op improve and adapt.

Campbell Andersen’s vision for communications begins with ensuring members are heard. “It’s interesting. Utilities work on long timeframes,” she offered. “Some of the challenges we’re facing as a community, and modern expectations people have, are on much shorter timeframes.” Openminded dialogue, she explained, helps people discover that they often have the same underlying goal, but may be approaching or talking about it in different ways. She has developed the skill of being able to “really listen, digest complex information, and distill it into actionable solutions.”

She also brings both openness and urgency to new ideas and opportunities, she said. She’s had to, considering how climate change has already forced her farm to act. “We’ve had to make changes to the types of crops we’re growing and our management plans,” she said “WEC is also looking at how its operations are going to be affected both financially and day-to-day, with things like vegetation management and increased outages.”

When it comes to affordability, Campbell Andersen thinks about access. “I’m concerned that folks are being left behind and not able to access the new technologies that could ultimately help them save money on their household costs, like electric vehicles, cold climate heat pumps, or battery storage, instead of expensive and polluting gas generators,” she said. Some innovative programs and technologies that WEC has yet to deploy are now available to customers of other Vermont utilities, she noted. She’s interested in the idea of collaborating with fellow utilities on administrative or operational resources to reduce costs and increase members’ access to climate solutions.

She’s also invested in the concept of equity. “Some decisions may not benefit you directly, but may benefit the larger community. In terms of equity, people have different needs.” While WEC’s first mandate is safe and reliable provision of electricity, she said, its members have multiple and differing needs. Leadership should bring intentionality and balance to consider other guidance and resources it makes available, she suggested, including ensuring everyone who wishes to can benefit from new, climate-resilient technology. “I’ve been solutions-oriented throughout my career,” she said, “and my experience has focused on environmental and energy sustainability issues. Every decision has the underlying need for fiscal responsibility.” 

At the Annual Meeting, she said, several members approached her to say they were moved by her candidate statement. She deeply appreciated that. “It’s a tremendous responsibility and privilege to serve on the Board, and I really do look forward to hearing from people about their ideas,” she said. “I hope folks will reach out to me and I look forward to reaching out to members before we vote on major decisions.”