A collective event summary by Ashley Davis, Jeremiah Holston, Kate Johnson, Laura Bartsch, Micalah Spenrath, and Yvonne Sharp.
Our team had the privilege to attend the 46th National Conference hosted by AABE (the American Association of Blacks in Energy) representing our organization and our members, and specifically a coalition of our members who joined us in a shared sponsorship in support of the event: DNV, Key Capture Energy, LS Power, Microsoft, Sunrun, Utilidata, and Sunpower.
This coalition sponsorship grew out of a smaller team’s experience attending AABE last year out of a desire to begin building a deeper relationship with the AABE community. At that time, our team came away having experienced warmth, welcome, candor, kindness, and one of the best conferences we had ever attended. We also witnessed that with limited exception, the advanced energy industry and our member companies were not present. We decided that we needed to step up, expand our own participation, and drive our members to engage with AABE — a decision that has been further strengthened because of our recent experience in Houston.
While we cannot fully capture the #AABEExperience in a short blog post, we thought we could share highlights about who we heard, what inspired us, and what actions we’d like to see by taking turns answering three questions.
Who did you meet or hear from who inspired you the most?
Ashley: The speaker that inspired me the most was Stephen Brown of Climate Imperative. I appreciated his holistic approach to the energy transition and giving people of varied professional backgrounds next steps for how they can create an environment that encourages an equitable energy transition (rather than maintain the status quo or make things worse than how they found them) beyond a capital investment. The idea of not just hearing from community members before doing projects but viewing them as equity partners as we move towards a future with advanced energy was refreshing. I also appreciated the global perspective he offered during the discussion of equity and how our actions have outcomes both locally and around the world – responsible citizenship and stewardship is imperative!
Micalah: The Mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, gave a speech that really resonated with me. The key message was something that I consciously do in my career and will continue to do: leave the door open for those that follow. People like me are very underrepresented in the energy and environmental space (I’ve had the pleasure to work in both) and through open conversations and hard work, I hope to increase representation in these fields. Intersectional collaboration creates the best solutions to the challenges we face. While I am in these spaces, I will keep exemplifying that and advocating for inclusivity.
What did you hear that inspired or taught you the most?
Kate: There was a theme that permeated throughout the conversations, speeches, and panels at AABE for me: ensuring equity in the energy transition, particularly how important it is to engage black and other disadvantaged communities who have been historically left behind in our economy. This is heightened by the massive opportunity in front of us spurring from last year's federal climate and energy legislation. Engaging communities in culturally relevant ways to take advantage of these opportunities is paramount for an equitable transition.
We talk a lot with United members about policy and regulatory roadblocks for their businesses and threats that stand in the way of achieving our goals of 100% clean energy and transportation. I walked away from AABE with a resounding belief that the biggest threat to achieving that goal is that the industry does not effectively engage these communities and create opportunities for disadvantaged and unrepresented people in the energy transition — both as energy consumers but also as leaders in our industry.
Jeremiah: Mentioned several times by a number of individuals was the reality that for black and brown businesses access to capital is very difficult. You see this phenomenon in the housing industry regularly; loan denials, lower house appraisals, or higher interest rates based on ethnicity. I had not fully realized this same struggle impacted businesses and well-known companies in our space at that level. The reason this disheartening reality inspired me is that I know investment in renewable energy is happening, and discussions around funding from both public and private sources are regularly expanding. I hope to use my own knowledge and connections where possible to see companies grow through the opportunities that exist out there, and where necessary to start building those opportunities myself.
What action would you like to see based on your AABE experience?
Yvonne: Across the event sessions, I came away with a few key takeaways. First, organizations must create goals to keep themselves honest and drive the goals forward. If we can empower our teams, we can be sure to hit even our most lofty goals. Second, it is imperative that we are active in the creation of an environment. It is not enough to just support it; we must drive it. Third, diversity creates organizational resilience. Finally, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) requires having the right tone from the top. With these lessons in mind, I came away feeling that I would like to see more of our staff and member organizations present at the conference next year.
Laura: As a team, we agreed that our observed theme of the week would be that the conversation about equity in energy is happening, and not enough of our companies are present and participating. The action I’d like to see — and I’m committed to making happen — is to change that.
Our team would like to thank our coalition co-sponsors, DNV, Key Capture Energy, LS Power, Microsoft, Sunrun, Utilidata, and Sunpower; member company Pattern Energy for their individual sponsorship; all the members of AABE who engaged with us, and the entire team at AABE who put together an extraordinary event. We look forward to seeing you at the 47th National Conference next year in Anaheim. Register early, you don’t want to miss it!