The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) was green long before it was in style. Even back in the days when “green building” referred only to the exterior color of a structure, our association and member contractors were involved with energy efficiency, energy management, conservation, alternative power—whatever the term du jour.

Now, we’re using a more descriptive and active phrase— energy solutions—because you have to solve energy needs one customer at a time before you can make green building a reality. And, we’re stepping up our efforts to put our association and industry out in front on all green-energy issues.

It’s not only because providing energy solutions is a profitable and growing market for electrical contractors. We also believe it’s vital to lifting our nation and electrical construction out of the economic doldrums and meeting America’s ongoing needs for security and financial stability.

NECA made that clear last year when we adopted our own energy independence policy. Our policy encourages investment in renewable and alternative energy, modernizing and securing the national electrical grid, and working to decrease U.S. reliance on oil and other energy resources from other countries.

Since then, NECA has continued to exercise leadership in this area by participating in the debates and shaping the national policies that affect the green-energy market. The effort includes maintaining a strong presence in the nation’s capital. We’re also working within coalitions seeking smarter, greener ways to deal with energy and construction issues.

As previously reported in this magazine, NECA-member contractors have testified before congressional committees to urge that provisions to create green-energy jobs be included in the stimulus act and other legislation introduced since its passage. More than 100 NECA contractors conveyed that message to their elected representatives on Capitol Hill as part of this year’s NECA National Legislative Conference.

Such advocacy work continues, and it is work that demands keen insight and careful balance of conflicting interests. Consider, for example, one of the most prominent energy bills currently getting attention from NECA’s active members and government affairs specialists—the American Clean Energy and Security Act, HR 2454. Its emphasis on increasing investment in renewable-energy technologies and new efficiency standards on lighting systems and appliances could provide new opportunities for our industry. On the other hand, there is concern that the legislation’s potential benefits could be outweighed by its overall costs to the U.S. economy. As a member-driven organization, NECA’s involvement is guided by its constituents—we electrical contractors.

In addition to grappling with contentious legislative issues, NECA’s current government affairs activities have expanded to include the pursuit of grant opportunities funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus plan to develop yet more green-energy training programs. And, we’re partnering with other organizations in this pursuit and other green initiatives.

For instance, at the invitation of the United States Green Building Council, of which NECA is an active member, our association is developing recommendations to improve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The development of new means to help electrical contractors in the LEED certification process will follow.

In related news, NECA is working with industry partners in the preliminary-discussion stage of developing a solar certification program distinct from current certifications offered by manufacturers and for-profit organizations. I’m looking forward to updating you on this project.

In the meantime, NECA also is providing industry expertise to assist the buildingSMART Alliance. This alliance was created to spearhead technical, political and financial support for advanced digital technology to serve the developers and users of building information modeling. Building information modeling (BIM) is expected to take on increasing prominence in green construction.

And, as this month’s NECA Notes section (page 121) reports, at the invitation of the National Fire Protection Association, NECA is chairing the industry group coordinating code changes necessitated by the move to a smart national electrical grid. Smart grid development will require a new level of coordination among utilities, service providers, customers, standards developers and manufacturers, and I am proud to belong to an organization that is taking a leading role in the process.

In all the activities I mentioned above and through related efforts, NECA’s primary motivation is establishing to the satisfaction of policymakers (and construction-service decision-makers) that green-energy work is electrical construction best performed by qualified electrical contractors. I think it’s safe to say that NECA is the green-energy leader and will get the job done.