No conversation about the Southeast’s energy future can be considered complete without prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ), with that topic kicking off Solar & Energy Storage Southeast 2021 in Atlanta.
The discussion flowed to a focus on energy equity, where Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Abigail Ross Hopper was joined by Dana Clare Redden, founder and CEO of Solar Stewards. Redden’s group focuses on energy equity and getting projects built in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, overcoming the access and financial barriers that have held those communities back.
Redden said that Solar Stewards was born from her experiences in Georgia where she saw the imbalance between those who wanted to see the benefits of clean energy, but couldn’t realize them alone. She equated systemic oppression to bad policy and said that empathy is frequently missing from conversations of equity, when the two are inherently tied.
Hopper and Redden agreed that equity is not only an issue of justice, but of business opportunity. Better policy creates expanded opportunity for individuals to get involved and see the benefits of renewable energy, which means that more business is created. The two also went on to cite multiple studies which show that diverse businesses with diverse leadership are more profitable.
Both also expressed excitement at the solar and greater clean energy industries’ role as job creators in the energy transformation.
“We know how to put up solar panels,” said Hopper. “How do we transform our industry and our economy with this opportunity?”
Before the session closed, Redden highlighted Black Owners of Solar Services (BOSS), a group of peer partners including entrepreneurs, financiers, veterans, attorneys, engineers, contractors, developers, and others, working to combine and leverage their collective power to lead actionable solutions for sustained access to equitable opportunities in clean energy production, distribution, and storage for Black-owned businesses.
“There are a lot of us out here” said Redden. She said that the group’s work aims to dispel the myth that renewable business ownership and leadership are out of reach or inaccessible to BIPOC.
Redden later was joined by John Kemp, senior business developer with Avangrid; Melinda Fischer, manager of generation resource planning with JEA; Ivan Urlaub, chief of strategy and innovation with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association; and moderator Katie Chiles Ottenweller, Vote Solar’s Southeast director.
The panel focused on thinking outside the box in terms of building and developing a diverse solar workforce, a process which all agreed must start from the top down.
That point was highlighted by Kemp, who offered Avangrid’s vision of building a sustainable workforce, which includes increasing representation in positions of authority, building a community of opportunity, and removing barriers that contribute to non-diverse workplaces.
The forum also recognized the efforts of Student ACES solar boot camp, a training and workforce development branch of ACES, a non-profit organization for former low-income high school athletes in Florida.
The program teaches participants the foundational skills to become workers in the solar industry, while also introducing them to the expectations and operations of the working world, in a way which prepares them for a lifelong career in the solar industry.
Graduates of the program are guaranteed a job working for Moss Construction, a firm contracted by Florida Power and Light, and offers them careers in installation with a pathway to supervisory and higher positions.
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