A very bright light has gone out in Burlington.
Blair Hamilton, the founder of Vermont Energy Investment Corp. and a longtime champion for energy efficiency and renewable power, died on April 8 after a long battle with cancer. He was 61.
Hamilton founded VEIC with his life partner, Beth Sachs, in 1986 and was the driving force behind Efficiency Vermont, the nation's first statewide energy efficiency "utility." He remained employed as VEIC's policy director until his death from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, according to executive director Scott Johnstone.
Reached by phone this morning, Johnstone recalled that at the time Hamilton and Sachs started VEIC, inspired by the Arab oil embargo, few people were thinking about efficiency as a key component of energy policy.
"The idea of starting a company in 1986 that would focus on lowering the economic and environmental costs of energy was pretty monumental to consider, when the fact was there just wasn't a whole lot of people who wanted to pay for that, or see that happen at the time," said Johnstone, who is in Washington, D.C., for a conference."It was just a different time in our world's history. They along with a few others really brought it forward so that people see that the cheapest energy is the energy we don't use."
Today, VEIC is a private nonprofit with 200 employees, $38 million in annual revenues and satellite offices in Ohio, Boston and Washington, D.C. Hamilton's work was recognized in 2002 when he was named a "Champion of Energy Efficiency" by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
From his Free Press obit:
Lawrence Blair Hamilton died peacefully on Friday, April 8, 2011, while family and friends who love him deeply sang him his favorite songs.
...Over 25 years, Blair was responsible for the installation of at least 30 million efficient light bulbs! Blair's love for his work was second only to his love for his family — his face lit up whenever they were around or in his conversation. He loved living in Burlington, where he could bike to the Saturday farmer's market, listen to Vermont Public Radio, go skiing in the Green Mountains, sing folk songs and look out on the lake as he read his weekly New Yorker.
Hamilton was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1991 and handled his treatments with grace and courage, Johnstone recalled. Until the end, Johnstone says Hamilton remained "fearless in the need to do this efficiency work right.
"He knew that as something that was breaking into the mainstream energy world, that errors would set the industry back," Johnstone said. "He had this fearlessness about him that was sometimes off-putting to people but at the end of the day always made the product better."
Hamilton's memorial service will be private but donations may be made to the Blair Hamilton Memorial Energy Efficiency Fund for innovation in energy and social justice at: VEIC, 255 S. Champlain St., Burlington, VT 05401.