Women in Power: Alicia Barton, President and CEO of NYSERDA, Kicks off BE-Ex’s 2018 WISE Speaker Series

Friday morning, March 2, saw our first Women in Sustainability and Energy (WISE) event of 2018 hosted in Building Energy Exchange’s newly renovated classroom. Although the morning was blustery and wet, we had an outstanding attendance of more than 60 people. Elizabeth Knauer, a principal at Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C, one of our WISE 2018 sponsors, gave opening remarks and introduced the keynote speaker, Alicia Barton, President and CEO of New York State Energy Research and Development Association (NYSERDA). Donna De Costanzo, Eastern Region Director of the Climate & Energy Program for the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), moderated the event and posed a series of questions to Barton regarding federal and New York State support for clean energy initiatives.

One key takeaway from this conversation was that while state involvement in environmental and energy policies is not new, it is now more imperative than ever for states to be actively engaged and working on these issues, rather than waiting on federal agencies for direction and support. Barton, drawing from previous experiences working at SunEdison and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center described the importance of communication and collaboration between states to speed the development and deployment of clean energy technologies across the US (although she joked that, as a competitive person, she would like to see New York at the top of energy initiatives). Barton noted that in the case of wind energy especially, as more states adopt the technology, costs are driven down for everyone nationwide. Many technologies, like micro-grid applications and battery storage, are being pioneered at the local level, so collaboration between communities is vital for the industry to grow.

Barton also remarked on the commitment states and cities have shown to the Paris Climate Agreement. Specifically, NYSERDA’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) commits New York State to significant reductions in energy use and carbon emissions through market-based initiatives and clear, systemic tools to enact change. Shifting the conversation from the state to the municipal level, Barton commended New York City for several key strategies it is using to achieve its “80×50” goals of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050. These strategies include building the market for clean energy jobs and technology, collaborating with utilities, and providing technical assistance to building owners and operators. Barton added that developing battery storage capacity and improving grid infrastructure to adapt to intermittent renewable energy sources like offshore wind and solar, which has grown 1000% since 2011, is critical to achieving both the state and the city’s carbon reduction goals.

The conversation then pivoted to the topic of community engagement and transparency in the energy industry. According to Barton, one major challenge to meeting the state’s REV goals and city’s 80×50 initiative lies in project implementation: community involvement is critical to ensuring the success of construction projects in the energy industry. In response to De Costanzo’s question about what else needs to happen to realize REV and 80×50, Barton said that renewables are taking to the market successfully, but there needs to be a shift in industry and utility to fulfill the Clean Energy Standard (CES). CES is an ambitious statewide energy goal to simultaneously reduce emissions and create jobs and economic stimulation. Barton believes that utility scale solar and wind are the last pieces of the puzzle.

Before opening up to audience questions, Barton spoke about her career as a woman in the energy industry, noting that she has been the only woman in a room of men on many occasions, and that we are not moving fast enough to fill the gap. In her words, gender equity is an issue of inattention and something that needs to be changed through conscious action. For example, by consciously setting goals and specific measures, such as contracting minority and women-owned businesses, NYSERDA has been able to achieve success and become a leader in the energy sector.

The conversation then opened to the audience questions, which ranged from interest or personal experience to architectural backgrounds to finance.

View the full event recording below!

By Cate Stern

WISE: Women in Power - A Conversation with Alicia Barton

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