Sheila Hollis: Reflections On An Unprecedented Year

Sheila Hollis: Reflections On An Unprecedented Year

One year ago, the snow globe of our world was turned upside down and the prospect of a busy year full of business meetings, receptions, lunches, dinners, celebrations, and travel was ripped away from us. Lives were completely disrupted, and uncertainty was on the horizon. Much of the world suffered and millions of lives have been lost.

The economic impact was unprecedented, and the energy economy was not spared as travel, commercial demand, and energy-dependent lifestyles were stopped in their tracks. In the first month of the pandemic, 106,000 clean energy jobs were lost. In the U.S., overall energy demand fell to a 17-year low by early May 2020.

Oil and natural gas prices plummeted. The United States, well on its way to becoming the global leader in LNG exports, faced the prospect of closing existing LNG facilities and halting construction of new ones. As I wrote last April, some unfortunately celebrated this impact on the fossil fuel industry. What was ignored is that such a development reverberates across the world economy, through many American households, and through the lives of many worldwide.

Today, the world energy situation is stabilizing as the pandemic begins to loosen its grip on the world’s economy. Energy businesses and its people are resilient and, last month, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that electricity use in the United States may reach pre-pandemic levels by 2022, and renewable energy could account for 60% of that capacity. The oil and natural gas industry is rebounding.

Throughout last year’s challenges, USEA’s Board and Staff remained resolute and eager to fulfill our mission in a new, virtual world. I am so grateful to them for staying strong, productive, and resilient, working devotedly for USEA under the most trying circumstances. A special thank you to those who cared for children, family, and friends who needed their presence and support.

Five months into the pandemic in August, our beloved Executive Director Barry Worthington suddenly passed away.

After Barry’s passing, we knew we had to move forward to honor him and fulfill our obligations to our members, our contract partners, and the broader energy community. Thus, we have held three major signature, virtual forums: the Advanced Energy Technology Forum, the Energy Efficiency Forum, and the State of the Energy Industry Forum.

Combined, these events attracted thousands of attendees from dozens of countries around the world, and recordings of these events have been viewed hundreds of times online. They received extensive press coverage by members of the energy media and numerous articles were written about the conversations that took place during these events.

We hosted over 150 virtual workshops and webinars with our partners at USAID, the State Department, and the Department of Energy to educate the American energy community and international stakeholders. We reinvigorated a Virtual Press Briefing series, covering cutting-edge topics, such as green hydrogen and 5G networks. 

We created internal weekly and external monthly newsletters to apprise our Board, staff, members, contract partners, and all other interested parties of our ongoing work. We have held internal staff town halls and meetings with our Program Directors. Our USAID contracts move forward apace and are being fulfilled; new contracts have begun and our schedules are filled with commitments and activities. Speeches have been delivered, presentations have been made, and roundtables, fireside chats, and other outreach and communication efforts have gone forward at an intense pace. 

All of this would not have been possible without the unstinting support of the Board of Directors. They have provided leadership, friendship, wisdom and excellent advice during unpredictable times. Their guidance and expertise are irreplaceable. I would like to especially thank our Executive Chair, Vicky Bailey; she is a tremendous pillar of strength and vision.

As I write this letter, the end of the pandemic is in sight. We look forward to more busy months ahead, which will include our Annual Membership & Public Policy Meeting in May and more virtual press briefings, webinars, and workshops. A new Administration is now in place, along with new leadership at federal agencies, including USAID, the Department of Energy and the Department of State. The Administration has made it clear that the creation and preservation of clean and environmentally-conscious energy is a priority, and USEA stands ready to help fulfill that priority.

Despite a year of unpredictability and challenges, USEA stands strong as a nonpartisan, non-lobbying organization that convenes our members and stakeholders to engage with our industry about the leading energy issues, opportunities, and challenges of our time. And we will continue our mission to help deliver safe, reliable, and environmentally sustainable energy access globally.

Sheila Hollis
Acting Executive Director
United States Energy Association