A little over five years ago, Dan Yates and Alex Laskey were trying to figure out where they should start their business — OPower, a business that would work with utility companies to help their customers conserve energy and save money.
“Consistently, going from person to person, we got feedback that Virginia was a great place to start a business,” Yates told a small crowd of Northern Virginia business leaders Wednesday.
“That’s an applause line,” U.S. Senate candidate and former Gov. Tim Kaine interjected. The crowd chuckled and complied.
Kaine and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., toured OPower before meeting with more than 30 area business leaders last week. It was the first day of Kaine’s two-week tour of Virginia in which he’s laying out his economic agenda.
“So, we started a company here. And we’ve been very happy here and, I’m grateful to say, very successful,” Yates said. “The cool thing about what we do is it works. It leads to saving energy.”
OPower has grown to more than 250 employees, most of them working out of the company’s headquarters in Arlington’s Courthouse community. It reaches more than 10 million homes across the U.S. and, in five years, has saved consumers almost $100 million, Yates said. OPower has help reduce carbon emissions by 1 billion pounds and is counting down to its goal of saving 1 terawatt-hour of energy — that is, enough to power a city of 200,000 people for a year.
OPower works with 65 utilities across the country, helping them give their customers better information about their energy use. Last week, it launched a new application, developed with Facebook and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which allows people to compare their energy use with family and friends.
“We have seen over and over again the value of being in this location, and in this region, for the pool of highly skilled workers we’re able to tap into, which is critical as we grow our business so quickly, and the robust and continuing-to-grow ecosystem of technology companies, amongst whom we’ve been able to put board members and collaborators and advisors, and it’s really been immensely helpful,” Yates said.
“This is a tremendously inspirational story, that really actually hits right at the heart of… taking some of those Virginia lessons and taking them nationally,” Kaine told Yates.
Kaine, who announced his Senate candidacy a year ago Thursday, laid out the three planks of his economic agenda:
- Sustainable growth
- Balance, in budgets and politics
On growth, Kaine said that he was a big believer in infrastructure spending — including rail and ports — that startups and small businesses need better access to capital and that this country needs a comprehensive energy policy, one in which conservation and efficiency “is probably the most important kind of investment.”
“Now, that’s an applause line,” Yates said.
America needs to make reinvestment in its talent pool this generation’s version of the Apollo mission, Kaine said. That means improving early childhood education, revamping No Child Left Behind, investing in community and technical colleges and making college more affordable.
“Win the talent war, and you make your economy strong,” Kaine said.
Balance, he said, involves not just financial matters, but policy in general. Every $2 to $3 of cuts made to balance the budget should be complimented by $1 made as a targeted investment, he said. Kaine also said tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should be allowed to expire, and that “giveaways to companies that don’t need them” need to be written out of the tax code — specifically citing corn-based ethanol subsidies.
“We can all have the best ideas, but none of it will work if we can’t find the balance of being able to work together,” he said, citing his work with Republican legislators while governor.
Speaking with reporters afterward, Kaine criticized George Allen, the Republican frontrunner in Virginia’s Senate race, for “ridiculing” new forms of energy production.
Companies like OPower are helping America catch up in the $2.3 trillion global clean energy economy, he said. Warner predicted more jobs and wealth will be created over the next 25 years in the energy sector than any other.
“We were happy to have them here,” Yates said. “They both have a long record of being progressive and right-minded about energy and efficiency.”