Energy – in Oregon and beyond – has a big impact on our environment. The space where they interact is where Alan Zelenka likes to work. He’s spent half of his life in the energy business, all the while being a staunch protector of Oregon’s natural resources.
Zelenka is the new Assistant Director for Planning and Innovation at the Oregon Department of Energy. He’ll oversee the work of 21 people who focus on efficiency, conservation, technology, and policy. That’s a lot to manage, but Zelenka’s 32-year career in the energy business has prepared him for this day.
While working on a master’s degree at the University of Oregon, he served as an intern at Emerald People’s Utility District in Eugene. His first assignment was to summarize the first Biennial Energy Plan by ODOE. Soon thereafter, EPUD offered him a job as a resource specialist. Zelenka spent 21 years at Emerald in several different roles before becoming an energy consultant in 2007.
“The stuff we did at Emerald PUD was cutting edge,” he said with pride. “We created an integrated resource plan in 1988. We fully incorporated energy efficiency into the plan. That was kind of revolutionary at the time.”
Zelenka was instrumental in developing two more IRPs at EPUD before going into consulting. His resume includes membership on the Oregon Global Warming Commission (2013-18), Climate Trust (2004-10), Public Power Council (2000-06), Renewable Northwest (1994-2008), which he helped co-found, and the Solar Energy Association of Oregon (1988-98). On top of all that, he was re-elected this past May to a fourth four-year term on the Eugene City Council.
Even after three decades in the field, he is still energized by all things energy.
“Energy is the largest industry on the planet, by a long shot; it impacts everything!” he said. “And then there are all of the environmental issues that go along with it.”
Zelenka’s background has positioned him well for his new role at the Energy Department. Among the many tasks that he will take on is helping the state accelerate the growth of renewable energy. He pointed out that 2016 was the first year that global new renewable energy projects outpaced fossil fuel development.
“The cheapest resources to build now are solar and wind,” said Zelenka. “Eventually, renewables and efficiency can meet all of our energy needs.”
“We’re already on the path to having a non-fossil fuel electricity system. Climate change will force us to accelerate our transition.”
He’s also excited about putting his own imprint on the state’s energy department.
“I want to set ODOE up as the go-to place when anyone has a question about energy,” said Zelenka. “And I want to position the state for new technologies, like battery storage. And lastly, I want us to be a good resource for climate change issues and potential solutions.”