By Rebecca Chilton, director, project finance; and Erica Reidy, associate director of project finance, Leyline Renewable Capital
Recent protests over the deaths of countless Black men, women and children in America have brought a reckoning on race to our country. Unjust systems of power exist all around us, and the renewable energy industry is no exception. This transformative year provides us not just the challenge, but also the opportunity to make real and lasting change in our world.
According to the “2020 U.S. Energy & Employment Report,” Black and African-American people made up only 8% of the sector, while white people made up 78%. Black people are grossly underrepresented in the renewable energy space, and we must work together as an industry to create systematic change.
Thinking about how to approach this urgent issue can be daunting. Ultimately, creating change will take many persistent and focused steps over a long time, and it will involve the cooperation of all the organizations in the industry. More essentially, it will take the commitment of the people in renewable energy to learn how to identify injustice; call it out; find the areas they have the power to address; and as the saying goes, “plan the work, then work the plan.” The Renewables Forward Initiative, made up of 12 organizations in the renewable energy space, has stated clearly the task before us, and helpfully created an initial framework we can use as one tool to move together toward a more inclusive and diverse community.
Our Plan of Action: A Work in Progress
Leyline has also created an initial plan that considers our position in the renewable energy industry, shines a light on our unspoken biases and default mentalities into the light, and capitalizes on our strengths as a company. We are actively working to implement internal processes that fight systemic racism and open doors for Black students and professionals, as well as other people of color, gender-diverse individuals, and others who are routinely excluded from economic and social power, and from the renewable energy revolution in particular.
Our plan is not perfect, and as a company made up of predominately white employees, we recognize that we have a lot to learn before we can even earn the right to be called “allies.” However, we believe in learning through action, so that our good intentions don’t get stymied in “analysis paralysis.” A predominantly white organization that means well has a high risk of staying in discussion mode, rather than stepping into the arena and risking missteps and mistakes. We encourage our friends in renewable energy to stop thinking about how they can help and start acting.
When creating a plan, it is important to acknowledge your company’s strengths and limitations and lean into what people at your organization are passionate and knowledgeable about. Whether you work at a small, nimble start-up or a large, well-established firm, we urge you to work with your colleagues to create a similar plan that fits your organization. We have included an overview of our plan below.
Leyline is introducing renewable energy as a knowledge area and career option to people of color through active skill-sharing at important points along their educational path — from high school environmental clubs and undergraduate academic departments to professional school career offices and post-graduate networks. By providing a general understanding of renewables and specific instruction on engineering, finance, law, public policy and environmental science, we can reach, educate and inspire more students and increase the number of Black candidates for future employment across our industry.
Additionally, Leyline is reviewing how our hiring tools – from job descriptions, to where we post openings to the ways we evaluate resumes and conduct interviews — may unintentionally work to exclude excellent and diverse applicants. We are seeking guidance and resources to improve our tools and alter our processes to recruit more Black candidates.
At the same time, we are examining how our own inherent biases may drive a “business as usual” mindset in employment. As part of this self-assessment, we are learning how to recognize and reduce the effect of these biases, and we are developing new employment behaviors that encourage candidates to share their diverse experiences and perspectives.
Finally, we are seeking opportunities to use Leyline’s financial capital and development expertise as a tool for change. Currently, we are building contacts and partnerships with nonprofits and financing peers to identify projects in lower-income communities that promote equitable access to renewable energy. We will utilize our skills to simplify project financing, streamline the development process, and overcome execution hurdles to help these communities and their nonprofit partners develop projects in their neighborhoods.
A Call to Action
This is Leyline’s unique plan, and we’re just getting started, and we hope it serves as a useful touchstone when creating your own. Ultimately, we must not wait until we have the perfect thing to do or say before we take action. Now is the time to acknowledge the racial inequalities we have benefited from and push with full commitment towards a more inclusive, more diverse — and thus more powerful — renewable energy industry.
Rebecca Chilton has over 21 years of legal practice in structured finance, including nine years financing more than a gigawatt of renewable energy projects. Erica Reidy has experience in business development and renewable project acquisition. Erica and Rebecca helped found the Leyline Against Racism working group, which is committed to expanding diversity and resolving inequity in the renewable energy industry and our broader society.