Midsummer NEWIEE Event Focuses on Building Consensus and Adapting to Change for Continued Clean Energy Growth

Last week, more than 100 women from throughout New England  traveled to Kingston, Rhode Island for a panel discussion hosted by New England Women in Energy and the Environment, or NEWIEE, to hear from a panel of leading women in the energy sector as part of their “Women Shaping the Agenda” series.  

Women of all ages, representing segments of the energy and environmental communities ranging from utilities to clean energy companies to advocacy organizations, met new allies as they convened in a large auditorium at the University of Rhode Island.

The evening’s keynote speaker, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, set the tone with a speech about the importance of women leading the public and private energy and environmental arenas. During her remarks she noted her administration’s strong team of women leading in energy and environmental issues, including Rhode Island’s all-female Public Utility Commission.  

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” asserted Governor Raimondo, who lamented the fact that law enforcement, companies, and public administrations across the country are in large part still run by men.  She stressed that women as well as men must be engaged in order to effectively address the environmental, energy and climate challenges we face, and pointed to her administration as one made stronger by its gender diversity.

Following Governor Raimondo, Barbara Kates-Garnick, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, moderated a panel discussion between Sara Burns, CEO of Central Maine Power, Heather Hunt, Executive Director of the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE), Kathleen Shea, President of Transmission with Eversource Energy, and our own Janet Besser, Executive Vice President of NECEC.

While all the panelists discussed the need for and challenges around a transition to a clean energy future, Besser highlighted the improved economics of clean energy generation, significant technological advances, the promising trajectory of energy policy, and customers’ desire to see a cleaner energy mix.  She cautioned that in order to continue to realize advancements in clean energy the region must signal its long-term commitment to sustainable energy solutions, remove obstacles for clean energy development and deployment, and modernize the electric grid. She noted that critical policy changes, including increasing some of the region’s state Renewable Portfolio Standards, must be made to provide long-term signals to the clean energy market.

Building on the theme of the energy sector’s constant state of change, the panel participants highlighted the need for utilities to evolve and adapt in order to best serve their customers and likewise for customers to be better engaged and informed about decisions that affect their energy use.  Shea shared that she was glad to be “sitting here aligned” with her fellow panelists, in their understanding of the importance of providing consumers with clean, renewable and reliable energy.

During a time when thoughtful debate and an eye toward consensus building is not taken for granted, it was inspiring to see Governor Raimondo’s call to action answered last week in the form of NEWIEE’s four female panelists’ respectful discussion and shared goal of moving toward a clean energy future.

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Kelsey Smithwood

Kelsey is NECEC's Products, Research, & Development Consultant.