The Planetary Podcast
“We know that 13 percent of renewables in the US is the female workforce, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. I employ predominantly women. And I always tell people, you know, it’s not really a political statement at all, is just when I looked around the room, all the smart people that had the skills and experience that I wanted happen to be women.”
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You’re tuned in to the planetary podcast, where you will meet the global leaders and innovators making a positive change on our planet. Covering topics like sustainability, climate change and circular economy, the planetary podcast highlight sustainable solutions around the globe that inspire others to make a measurable difference. Now here’s your host, founder and CEO of the Planetary Press, Kimberly White.
Kimberly White Hello and welcome to the Planetary Podcast. Today we were joined by Kimberlee Centera, president and CEO of TerraPro Solutions and a real trailblazer and the renewable energy industry. Thank you for joining us today, Kimberlee.
Kimberlee Centera Thank you, Kimberly. I’m really excited to be here today.
Kimberly White Can you tell me about how you first ventured into renewable energy and your work at TerraPro?
Kimberlee Centera Of course, happy to do that. Like a lot of people in renewables, I really fell into it. I had no idea 20 something years ago that there was even a renewable energy industry. I was going from the legal industry into working for in-house counsel. And there was just a great position that opened up for a local privately held wind developer. And that was really how my career began. I started in the legal department and on the development side, the head of development was always coming over to my office saying, “Kim, you have to come and work with us in development. That’s where all the fun is. That’s where all the action is!” And back in those days, I really didn’t understand what he meant, but I did eventually join the development team. And as they say, the rest is history. I really fell in love with the idea of being able to be involved in grassroots communities, working with people, talking to people all across the US, understanding their concerns, and then being able to influence those communities through energy and through sustainability. And then once our projects were operational, being able to go back into those communities and see the changes. And a lot of times it was very rural communities. So, it’s been really fun to watch that in my career. I went from the small wind farm developer to working for a large IPP, which is an independent power producer, large company. I ended up going out on my own in twenty twelve really through a series of accidental events. I ended up starting my company, TerraPro Solutions. We are a risk mitigation firm. We specialize in real estate and tidal. We work with typically large-scale developers on utility size projects. So, we’re more I would say our average project is around one hundred megawatts where we work all across the US and our focus is to help our clients drive those projects to typically some kind of financial transaction. There’s always some kind of financial, whether it’s debt or equity or in order to be able to get to start of construction. So, we consult around all the different pieces for site control and getting the project up and running and especially being able to meet lender scrutiny for financing.
Kimberly White That’s really impressive. So, can you tell me a little bit more about some of the cities where you have seen a big change?
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Kimberlee Centera Yes, I would say out in Wyoming. We did a lot of work out in Wyoming and I was so impressed by the legacy of the rural area out there. And basically, we built these projects up on top of mountains and the sites themselves are spectacular to drive along and see the wind turbines up on these huge mountains. And then at the base of the mountains was where all the ranchers lived with their families. And there was a real desire back then. And I think it’s still true today for the rural communities to retain their culture, to retain their young people, to keep their communities viable. And so, it was really interesting to be a part of that and honestly just develop an appreciation for the hardships where these people lived. And the fact also that coming in and being able to bring in this other revenue source could also really make a difference. So, I think that’s certainly an area. And I think really up in Washington and in Oregon, certainly the same thing. And I think we see that now with solar. And there’s many similarities. And I think across the board, if you think about developing energy projects, I always tell people, you know, there’s just best practices that apply because people say, well, have you worked in every state? Not yet. Right. We’re close, but not yet. But there are best practices that we want to take into every region, wherever we work. And if you apply those, you’re really going to start out on the right foot and you’re much more assured of success. So, I saw that to up in Oregon in the early days of, again, when development and I think you see it in solar when we have a chance to work with our clients. There’s just certain things that are the right things to do. And we like to help guide our clients through that, because I’ve found that these projects happen, energy projects happen because of communities. They happen because people come together. They have a certain belief they want to support diversity and energy. They’re excited about being part of climate solutions, but you can’t do it in isolation. So, building those relationships, I think recognizing your cultures, understanding the people, super important for what I’ve seen in development.
Kimberly White I can imagine. And that is the perfect lead into our next question. Speaking of building together and partnerships, the US led the Paris agreement becoming the first country to exit the global climate change accord. So, we haven’t seen much climate action happening at the federal level, which will likely change once the Biden administration takes office. In recent years, we have been seeing a huge increase in individuals, businesses and local governments stepping up to combat the climate crisis, which states you see most aggressively shifting to renewable energy. And how can people encourage that to happen?
Kimberlee Centera So, there’s a lot of different pieces that are happening around renewable energy and focuses of states and what they’re trying to do. There’s mandates and RPS and different things. When you look at it, 14 states right now have requirements for diversification for 50 percent or greater for renewable energy to bring that into their environments. So, there’s obviously a lot of the West has certainly been very forthright and forthcoming. As far as embracing renewables, it looks really different from state to state. I think some states are very well diversified in terms of energy and their approach. But I think what you’re seeing overall is a desire for, again, these communities, these states, the politicians. First of all, I think people are demanding it. I think people want to know that they are part of a solution and they want to see that their politicians, their communities are taking steps to be able to be involved in that. So, I think it’s really exciting. Obviously, some states have set the bar really high. Some cities have set the bar really high. San Diego, where I’m located, they have 100 percent renewable requirement by 2035. And there’s many cities that have similarly embraced that desire to be able to hit that one hundred percent mark. I think it’s a huge challenge and I think it’s going to require a lot of people working together and really being smart about it. But I think you’ve seen. A lot of things happen where people want to, again, be part of it. They want to know that they can make a difference. So, I think it’s an exciting time.
Kimberly White Yes, I’ve been thrilled to see a lot of these cities step up and commit to one hundred percent renewable. We saw last April that Houston announced they would be powering all city operations with renewable electricity starting in July, which was fantastic news. They did that through a power purchase agreement. And it’s really exciting to see the city stepping up and making that commitment. And I love what you said that they want to be part of that solution. And I think at this time, we all need to be working to get that climate change. It is all hands-on deck. We need everyone everywhere. So, you’ve been a key player in this industry for over 25 years. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen that renewable energy developers face? And what are some of the biggest successes that you’ve seen throughout your career so far?
Kimberlee Centera It’s interesting, the early days of renewables, I think one of the biggest challenges, and I still see this, and I sit on committees for the American Wind Energy Association and also involved a lot with a lot of different groups. I still feel like we haven’t done a great job of getting the word out on who we are and what we’re really trying to do. And there are campaigns and there is information. But I just feel like as an industry, we have not. I will talk to people even now and they’ll say, oh, wow, that’s an emerging industry. How do you feel about being part of that? That’s really up and coming. And I have to think, gosh, I’ve been in this industry for 25 years. We’ve been laboring really hard to get these projects installed. And I think the other thing besides not really doing a great job of educating people is, these projects are tough. I mean, it takes five to seven years to develop a wind project in California. It costs millions of dollars. One of our colleagues, a TerraPro, actually worked on the first met tower that was permitted in San Diego County. And it took almost a year and Board of Supervisors approval, and it cost right around a million dollars. So, I think as long as you have those kinds of barriers, it makes it really difficult for our industry to be successful. And I even saw, we’re working on a battery storage project right now where we had the community people show up and they had all these concerns about they had heard about electromagnetic fields and all these different things, and they had all these worries. But really, it’s not supported by research. The research is really to the contrary. And so, again, I feel like we haven’t done our job at the best job that we can with educating people who we are, the value that we bring to the community, and the change, the positive changes that we can make. Because most of the developers that we work with are super concerned about the communities. They recognize that they are in almost a fiduciary role. And so, they want to work really closely with the county’s any of the constituents to make sure that all the concerns are addressed. I think on the positive side, you have seen a cost drop for solar costs, drop for wind. You have seen huge gains in technology. There is a project that I worked on 25 years ago, one of my first wind projects, and I think we put in, let’s say, one hundred wind turbines. And now with the new technology, they’re going to be able to put in a quarter of that. There’s going to be maybe 25 wind turbines. And so, you’re seeing those kinds of advancements and I think it benefits everyone because you get better production from less turbines, so you have less land use. And I think similarly in the solar space, there’s been a lot of refinements around technology. There’s a lot of attention paid to how we can do things in a positive way. So, I think that’s been really exciting to see those changes in technology, to see all the opportunities that are out there. So, I’m excited about those successes. And I think going forward from a starting point, we always say, let’s start with our community. Let’s make sure that we have their buy in. But I would say, yes. I mean, I think the exciting things are and even more what’s to come. There’s even more opportunities out there. At the end of the day, I feel a very strong commitment to the communities because I’ve walked the farms, I walk the ranches. I’ve talked to the folks about the lack of water, about losing the young people to the city. I feel like those concerns are just part of the heart of what we do. So, making sure that we can be part of trying to help ensure that the projects that are installed are good, viable projects because it affects all of us.
Kimberly White Absolutely, and to go back to what you just mentioned with the farms and ranches, there seems to be an increase of farmers working with renewable energy developers, leasing land to them so that farmers are still able to earn an income on land where they may not have now because of climate change with unpredictable yields and crop loss and even just young people moving away for different careers that don’t want to be part of that family farm. Are you seeing an increase with farmers adopting renewables as part of their new way forward?
Kimberlee Centera Yeah, I think it’s a great question, Kimberly, and I think when you look at some of these rural communities, it’s been very compelling because I think what you’re describing is exactly what happens in these areas where you’ll talk to people and they’ll say, OK, I have I have so many acres and I’m willing to make so much available for solar. Let’s say I want to keep the remainder of it in the farm, but I want to make so much available for solar. And it does really open up a lot of options for those areas where they want to be able to utilize both resources, retain the original legacy family farm, but also have the opportunity for revenue. And when I think back to the early days, especially in renewables, when we were first out talking to people 20 something years ago, I, I was working out in Texas signing wind lease options back in 1994 and back in those days, who really could have conceived what we were going to see in terms of Texas and how huge that market has become. And I really loved those early folks that we talked to because I felt like they had to share my vision. We had this vision for what we could do. We had this vision of being able to use the land, being able to optimize it, how that would work for the future. And in those days, you couldn’t really look around and see all the wind projects like you can now. So, I love the fact that they were going to take a risk with me. So I think you still see that now in terms of these projects and helping people understand that value a big, important part of what we do. But I also think that it does provide that certainty. And that’s important when you’re out talking to ranchers, farmers, whoever it might be. The idea that they can sign a long-term lease, that they’re going to have a certain revenue stream over a period of time is very compelling. And I think it can really make a difference. So, and the nice thing about these projects, and I see it a lot with solar, is that there is that ability to be able to really work around all the different uses. Wind, it’s always been a benefit of the wind project because it didn’t matter what else was going on in the property. Usually there was a way that you could incorporate it, but we see that happening. So, it’s really again, it’s a very interesting piece. But I think it’s you know; people want to be part of this. I think they recognize the importance. And I think if you’re out on a farm or if you’re in a business or wherever your situation, I think everyone on some level wants to be able to say, I’m a part of this, I’m committed to this. I’m doing my share to be able to make a difference.
Kimberly White It really is a very diverse field. You attract people from small businesses to large companies to those farmers and ranchers, and I think that’s one of the most impressive things about it, is it just really builds that sense of community, that sustainability community. And with the renewable energy industry, it is one of the fastest growing fields. So, what new innovations or technologies are you most excited about?
Kimberlee Centera I have to say, I’m really excited about offshore wind. I think there are so many opportunities there. I think it’s going to be very interesting. And I was at the offshore conference maybe 3 years ago, and they were talking about the sizes of these turbines. And in the early days of wind, you might install a one-megawatt turbine. And these turbines, now that they’re looking at installing offshore, are 13, 15, 17 megawatt turbines. So, these are incredible machines and incredible works of technology that we’re looking at installing. So, I think that’s a very exciting prospect. I think one of the things that will come out of this isolation, quarantine, everything that we’ve gone through is I think there’s going to be even more of a challenge for people, as I say, now that we’ve seen the difference that we can make by making changes as groups. I think there’s going to be a challenge that’s going to come back to all of us that how can we take that to the next level? What is that going to look like? How can we now build on the momentum of what we created was involuntary, but how can we build on that momentum and then take it to the next level? And I think that’s the other thing that I’m really excited about. I’m really excited to see. I go to conferences and I listen to people talk about the innovation and the ideas, whether it’s on a really small individual with solar or taking it into very small communities and being able to make a difference, whether it’s globally in Africa or wherever it might be. So, there’s a lot of great thought that’s going into technology as a whole and how we can innovate. So that’s really what I’m excited to see, is what’s going to come out of this that we can then really, and I think we’re going to have built a mainstream of support that people will be really committed to this going forward.
Kimberly White So what role do you think renewables will have in COVID-19 recovery efforts? And as a risk management expert, what are your thoughts on the call for a green recovery?
Kimberlee Centera Well, I think the call is going to be for all of us to really take a look, and I think it will start at on a small level, right? I think we’re all now for those of us that have businesses, we’re all reexamining our businesses and our business model and our thinking around the workplace. And I know we are here at TerraPro Solutions were among the many that are saying, all right, how much of this are we committed now going forward to committing to a remote workforce to get those cars off the road? And I think on a micro basis, you’re going to see many, many companies do that. They’re going to be reevaluating. I’m thinking that our traffic patterns here in San Diego, you could there is that time frame that you can expect traffic from 2 o’clock to 6. And obviously, that is not the case right now. And it’ll be interesting to see whether or not it goes back, because I think it’ll take some time. So, I think it’s going to start at the business level. And you’ve already seen companies that have said one hundred percent of our workforce is going to remain remote. I think that’s where it’s going to start. And obviously that has positive impacts for our community. And I think it’s going to then again, that momentum is going to continue through our cities, through our states and through the larger corporations, beyond looking at our workforce and how we restructure our workforce. What are the other ways that we can then commit to starting to make more permanent changes that will start again, all these other important aspects for sustainability? I think there’s been a lot, certainly a lot of difficulty. But again, I’m excited to see what’s going to happen as a result of what we’ve learned, because we now know that we can offset a lot of the carbon footprint. We now know what I mean, we actually we have the benefit now of all this research and data that we normally would never have. I mean, how often is it that you can say, OK L.A., just go to sleep for 90 days and everybody get off the road and we’re going to see what that looks like? Right. If you had told someone a couple of years ago that that was going to happen, they would have said, you’re out of your mind. And yet it’s happened. And we now have the benefits of seeing we now have the benefits of that research. So, we know the difference. So, I think it’s going to move throughout all the different sectors. And I think part of the challenge going forward and I know I think it’s even become part of the whole political focus coming up, is how we can really start to incorporate even more changes. I think at the same time, it will present challenges for us as business leaders because having that connection is very important. And so, I know, again, looking at this idea of transitioning the workforce, I think at the same time that it will help in a lot of ways. I think it will create some challenges for us, too, in terms of leadership and how we manage our remote workforce, where you’re not seeing each other except for maybe on Zoom or whatever the medium might be.
Kimberly White Women are often on the front lines of crisis. Studies have shown that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. According to the United Nations, 21.5 Million people are displaced each year by weather hazards worsened by climate change. And out of those displaced women account for 80 percent. With the COVID-19 pandemic, new research has shown that women are yet again disproportionately impacted with women most at risk from the economic impacts of the pandemic. What are some of the challenges that you see ahead for women in the workforce?
Kimberlee Centera Of course, I’m I am preparing some of my next talks, and it’s really going to be for women how we think about this week. We all know the statistics. We all know that women are underrepresented. So how do we start to change this? So, when you look at those strategies, which I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about, one of the strategies that you propose to women is be visible, right? Get into the office, sit at the table, be present, speak your voice, have an opinion, express your opinion. These are all things that we encourage women to do, is they’re thinking about the pathway for their career. So, I think when you think about this remote workforce, I think it’s going to present challenges for men, too, obviously. But I think challenges for women in a different way, because how are we going to have the same impact? How are we going to continue our desire to be able to get the word into management that we can make the bigger decisions when we’re all working remotely? And I think as women, too, we need to examine ourselves closely. Right. We need to think about what our barriers are, what our perceptions are. But I think it’s going to be a challenge. I don’t know that I have the answer right now. I really am thinking of getting together a really smart group of women to talk about this. I do have a great story, though, and I just love it. I have a woman that I’ve known through Ri’s, which is Women and Renewables and Sustainability. It’s one of the organizations that promotes women in energy and it’s probably one of the pioneer organizations. I’ve known this woman a very long time. Last year she was appointed to the board, so she finally gets this C Suite role that so many of us aspire to and COVID hits. And so here she is. She’s a younger woman. She’s got young children. She’s on the board and the board is making decisions. And they’re kind of I don’t want to say they’re overlooking her necessarily, but she wasn’t necessarily given maybe the opportunity to contribute initially in some of the decisions. And she found herself at one point she was like, she had to raise your hand, say, hey, wait a minute, the people that you’re making decisions about, it’s me. I’m one of the people that’s going to be impacted. Women like me, dual working couples with children at home that are maybe home schooling. And we all know the story, so on and so forth. And so, she found she really had to speak her mind and we were talking about it together on a call. And I said, how did that make you feel? And she said, well, I just want to throw up every day. It was kind of funny. But also, it took a lot of courage. So, I think this is now the point that we’re at. This is now the opportunity that we have as far as women this year when we get into those roles. So, thinking about that being visible and when we have that opportunity raising our hand and saying, you want to hear from me, I have a very valuable insight to offer around this because you’re talking about me. These are decisions that, you know, and again, when we look at companies going forward and, you know, there’s so many challenges around this whole idea of remote workforce and listening to other people talk around. And Sheryl Sandberg is one of them around this idea of women and the challenges for women and still the primary caregivers and all these other things that we know we really need to be prepared and prepare ourselves for that opportunity. So, I think for me, one of the areas that I really am excited about as we go into these next 2020 and beyond, women are going to have a huge buying power. It’s in the multi hundreds of millions. And so, we are going to be a predominant force and we are going to find that we’re going to have the opportunity to have a voice and a lot of different decisions. I would like for us to be prepared. And so, I really want for women to start to be prepared. And that’s a passion of mine. Besides all the work that I do in renewables. When I think about myself and my career, I never imagined that I would be where I am now. If someone would have said 10 years ago that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would have said, I don’t think so. I was perfectly happy being in the role that I was in. But now that I look back, I see that there was a different thinking that I could have embraced earlier that I think would have helped prepare me. So that’s. One of the passions that I have just working with women, but again, this visibility, there’s going to be a lot of challenges and this is not something that I think women can do on their own as a group. We’re not going to change it by ourselves. We’re going to change it because we engage in a dialog. But I think we also want to be prepared to have that dialog. As women, we want to be prepared. What do we want? We want to be prepared to talk about that so you can tell it’s something that I’m very passionate about. But I do think we have an awesome opportunity because so much of what’s come out of COVID, I believe, is that the fact that we need to stay connected and we know that women. Are there Focus’s relationships, their focus is reaching out to people. Their focus is building constituencies and communities. And I think it’s something that women are at the core, they’re at the center of the family. And so, I think we carry those values and that culture into our workplace sometimes has worked against us. But I think we’re now coming into an era where all those skills and abilities are going to work in our favor. So, let’s be prepared for that.
Kimberly White And visibility is certainly a challenge in the renewable energy industry for women. As it’s typically a very male dominated field and you’ve been such a champion for women in the space. Can you tell me more about how TerraPro has been promoting gender equality and empowers women to get more involved and one of the fastest growing fields?
Kimberlee Centera We know that 13 percent of renewables in the US is the female work force, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. And so, we as a company, I employ predominantly women. And I always tell people, you know, it’s not really a, it’s not a political statement at all, is just when I looked around the room, all the smart people that had the skills and experience that I wanted happen to be women. I think one of the great things about having the company and the environment that we do is watching people develop. And in an environment that we’re in, we’ve brought so many people in who had very little renewable experience, but they had certain traits. They had certain characteristics. They had certain character that we knew that we could help them develop into great assets for our business and the work that we do. And so that has been really gratifying to me. And I have one woman that works for me and I really love to tell the story because I don’t like to embarrass her and I won’t say her name, but she is a young mom. She was in Texas. She had to pack up her four kids and drive out to California, to San Diego. And when she came and my son came to me and he said, hey, you know, she’s got great skills in the area of marketing. What if we bring her in and we just start to train and have her do some work for us? I said, sure, because I thought to myself, and even now she’s one of the most dedicated people that we have on our staff. And I think, well, who isn’t going to hire a woman, who’s going to pack up a car drive for three days or four days, however long it was with four kids in the car, with everything that they own and come all the way out to California by herself? That’s a pretty gutsy woman. And I feel like in our environment, we get to take a chance on that and promote people and everyone that I have working with me started out doing something else and has now transitioned into doing renewables. So, I love watching people achieve things. I love it when someone comes and says, can I try this? Or I’ll have the conversation, say, why don’t you try this or that? So, on the grassroots basis, it’s really the culture of our company and in our company, we have been very specific about working on our values and who we are and what we represent. And I think we know who we are. And we’ve really worked very hard to create a certain culture of collaboration and respect. And sometimes we’ve had to make very difficult decisions. But we’ve decided as a team that we’re going to be very fierce about preserving our culture and who we are and working together. And the great news is that our clients see it and they understand it and they know who we are. I think also we outreach a lot into the community. And right now, I am I my focus in prior years has been to work with women who were building their career. So, I would say 30’s to 40’s. But as I talk to people more and more and as I did more and more work, I realized that I needed to go younger. And so, I would talk to women in their 20’s and they would say, we don’t have a culture of support. We don’t know how to reach out to. We feel isolated. So, then we started to bring those women in. And now I’ve even gone into college aged women. Because the interesting thing, when you talk about women and you compare the 20 somethings to a woman my age, so many of the concerns and the issues are the same, which is interesting to me because years ago when the 70’s, when I was really emerging into my career and it was really the beginning of women moving into the business force and in a big way. And I would have loved to have thought, gosh, things have changed, but a lot of respects they haven’t, they haven’t changed enough. So, my work is to really work with the younger women and help them reframe their thinking, help them start to have what I maybe call that C Suite thinking that C Suite pathway early. Let’s think about that and let’s think about what that looks like and how can we start to reframe some of these things and have these conversations. So certainly, we’re doing work across all those different areas. And then I would say in our work with WRISE and a lot of the other groups I work with, Women in Clean Tech. I’m now working with Women in Global Wind. So, we want to get the word out to these groups. Let’s leverage where we are. There’s a great dialog to be had. And when you get women together, the power is amazing. The power in the room has been awesome. When you get women together and what you know, and I’ve had the opportunity to participate on so many different levels so I can really see that. And that’s really a passion of mine is how can I take what I’ve learned and help the younger women benefit from that.
Kimberly White Absolutely. This really is an opportunity to look back on what we’ve done and look at how we can build back better. And I think that is just such a powerful message around the world right now during and after COVID-19. So, following our interview, where can our listeners find you?
Kimberlee Centera Right, we are at www.TerraProSolutions.com. So, you can look for us there.
Kimberly White All right, excellent. Well, that is it for today’s episode of the Planetary Podcast. Kimberlee, thank you so much for joining us today.
Kimberlee Centera Thank you, Kimberly.
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