WCS Talks 2018
Speaker – Kimberlee Centera
“We’re here to talk about renewables and that’s become my career and also my business. So I want to share with you a little bit about where I started and where I am today and some thoughts about women looking for careers in renewables and what that means.”
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Kimberlee Centera: I’m so humbled by all the great women in this room, and I love coming to these events because I think it reminds us how many smart women there are in this space. And I think that’s really exciting. Interesting couple little anecdotes. I don’t know if Dave is still around. He graduated from Monta Vista. I graduated from Cupertino. So we were arch rivals. And my very first job, one of my first jobs was at Inter Cell, a semiconductor here in high tech before really there was high tech. But we’re here to talk about renewables and that’s become my career and also my business. So I want to share with you a little bit about where I started and where I am today and some thoughts about women looking for careers in renewables and what that mean.
Kimberlee Centera: So opportunities for women and again, I’m Kimberlee Centera and I’m the founder of TerraPro Solutions. And I do have over twenty five years in the energy sector, I started working for Sea West Wind Power, a small wind power developer in San Diego County, privately owned. And in 2005, we were acquired by AES Corporation, which was a large independent power producer. And at that point in my career, I really thought I was going to be retiring at AES, I thought, I’m done. You know, my career is that’s it, I’m set. But much to my surprise, as happens in renewables, there’s a lot of transitions. Any of you have been around the space for a while. In 2012, AES decided to exit renewables and so they closed their San Diego office. And I had a really big decision to make. I had to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And I was talking to a lady earlier about being younger than me and trying to figure out what she wanted to do. And at that stage in my my life, I really did not envision starting a business. But that’s really what I decided to do. I’ve always built projects and I thought at this stage in my life, I’m going to build something for me that I have control over because, you know, otherwise we have other people making decisions for us.
Kimberlee Centera: Some of the drivers of renewables, we haven’t really talked about that a lot today, but if you work in the commercial sector like I do, it’s very policy driven. We are dependent upon the tax credits. And so when the tax credits go away for both wind and solar in the next three or four years, there’s a lot of discussion around what’s going to happen. What’s that? What’s our industry going to look like? And I don’t think anyone knows the answer, but we do know that it’s being driven now by Sustainability Corporation stakeholders. They’re very interested in renewables. And we’ve talked a lot about that today and what it looks like. There’s a lot of drivers and competitive pricing. We touched on that today, too. There’s obviously the pricing for renewables has come down significantly since the early days.
One of the things that I’m really excited about in renewables was just evidence to me this year when I went to the what is now WRISE which is Women in Renewables and Sustainability. They have an annual luncheon. And this year, for the first time, 30 percent of the room was men. And not only was it men, but it was C-suite was CEOs, CFOs. And what I ask a lot of these men, you know, why they were there? They were there because there’s now a corporate mandate to bring women into renewables. They want to advance women. They want to create careers. And they were interested in hearing from the women what they need to do to start to take steps to do that. And I think that’s really a powerful indicator for us.
Kimberlee Centera: What opportunities are available? You know, we’ve talked a little bit about it today, obviously, attorneys, technicians. I think we saw a picture of a wind turbine earlier today. If you want to be a wind tech, you can learn how to climb to the top of turbines and service the hubs and the blades and everything else. Engineers, renewables loves women with technical backgrounds, so they’re excited to have engineers, project managers, consultants. What do women need to work in cleantech, you know, renewables really derives from the utility industry, which is very male dominated and typically pretty conservative. So I think if you want to work in renewables, number one, you want to have a vision. And for me, when I started my company, I had a vision. I knew I wanted to build something. I did not have a clear path. I didn’t know that I would be here today and that I would have twenty five people working for me. I started out by myself, but I knew that I wanted to build something and I was willing to keep that vision and foster that vision. You also have to be a creative problem solver. Everyone knows that there’s there’s issues. But what makes the difference is the people that are willing to jump into the trenches and work with you to try to solve problems.
My team, we are constantly solving problems. That’s all we do for our clients. You know, they’ve got it. They have a big wind project or a big solar project. We have 100 megawatt solar project right now in North Carolina that we’re working 24/7 to get into construction. And it’s a huge undertaking and we have new issues every day. So we have to be dedicated and persevere. I think also a readiness to take risks. Renewables, just traditionally there’s no path and we’ve talked about that today as well. There still is not a clear, clean path. We have to create that path. Those of us that are here, those of us that are interested. But that’s the opportunity, is that we can take the risk and we can make that future look however we want it to look.
Kimberlee Centera: We’ve talked a lot about mentors today. I believe in finding mentors, but I think it should be a very authentic relationship. I think we need to solicit positive and negative feedback. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Let’s understand what those are and be able to work around that. As women, we have a tendency, you know, we cry when we when we have a bad day or when we have negative things happen. But I think we need to start to embrace how we can be more authentic and how we can prosper.
Lastly, hire a coach. I’m a firm believer in hiring male and female coaches. I think men and women bring different things to the table in terms of our careers. When something happens at work, you can go home and talk to a man about it. You’re going to get a different opinion than a woman. And I think that feedback is important because we need to be able to prosper in an environment that has both.
What’s next for women? I think this is probably the biggest area for us. We need to now realize we can take a place at the table. Recently, I was at a conference and I was going to the lunch and somebody showed a picture earlier of all the men. And there was one woman. Well, I was at the conference. I had to decide which table I was going to sit at. And there was a table of men all in blue suits, and then there was other tables with women. And I purposely picked the table with all the men. I challenged myself. I deserve to have a place at that table. So I went and sat down and I started talking. I think as women, that’s what we need to do. We deserve to have a place at the table. We need to have collaborative and open dialog. We need to find out.
I recently talked to a president, a very large renewable company, and he was expressing to me some of his frustrations about women and what they what they want. He’s he’s tired of hearing the same old information about the pay isn’t fair. And then we talked about how, you know, women leave early because they have kids and I understand where he’s coming from.
But how do we create an environment where women of all ages and my company, I have it’s predominantly women and I have women childbearing age, and then I have a woman who has a mother with Alzheimer’s. So we have opposite ends of the spectrum. The one with Alzheimer’s never had kids, but now she’s dealing with dealing with child care issues with her mother. So this is our workforce of today. We have to find a way to work around those those issues.
And lastly, I just want to leave you with my mantra for the formation of my business, which was from the very beginning of my career, I never let someone else’s idea of who I should be define me and what I should be. One of my first jobs at a law firm, this I was applying to be a legal secretary. And the the attorney who interviewed me asked me if I was married, asked me if I had kids, and then he said, no one’s going to hire you to be a legal secretary. You have no experience. You’re going to have to be a receptionist. And I thought, watch me, watch me. And I did. I went on to get a job. Working for a partner at a law firm is probably not here anymore at Chandler and Schneider.
But thank you, Carl, for taking it, for taking a chance on me for a woman who thought she deserved a chance. So thank you very much.
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