From Internship to ED: an interview with DWEA’s Jennifer Jenkins
Jennifer Jenkins is the executive director of the Distributed Wind Energy Association (DWEA). Ms. Jenkins has more than 10 years experience in the wind industry, including her tenure in the Government Affairs Department at Southwest Windpower. In this role, she was an integral part of the team that successfully sought passage of the Federal 30 percent tax credit for small wind systems. As executive director of DWEA, Ms. Jenkins works directly with members, stakeholders, and policy makers to find opportunities to grow the distributed wind market. Ms. Jenkins earned her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science with an emphasis on policy and public administration from Northern Arizona University and is the 2012 recipient of the Women of Wind Energy’s Rising Star award.
Hi, Jennifer. Thanks so much for talking with Small Wind News about DWEA and your career in distributed wind.
Let’s start with you telling our readers how you first got involved in distributed wind.
Sure! It’s kind of a funny story. I was finishing my Environmental Science degree at Northern Arizona University and fell in love with wind energy after writing a research paper on utility scale wind. It was time for me to get an internship and I had heard that there was a turbine manufacturer located in Flagstaff. I stalked them until they brought me on to do my internship on government incentives available for small wind. I’ve been in love with the industry ever since!
Tell us the story of how DWEA was started and how you came to be executive director.
DWEA was started by a group of industry leaders who were ready to have a sole, unified voice for distributed wind. They wanted to focus on policies, barriers, and market drivers specific to on-site generation, which has very different needs than utility-scale wind. There had been discussions about creating a trade group for years, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the industry pooled their resources to form DWEA. In my role at Southwest Windpower, I had worked in government affairs and had the good fortune of meeting and working with many of the industry’s stakeholders. Fortunately, they had faith in my ability to coordinate the industry and get our federal and state policy programs running.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing distributed wind in the U.S. today?
Financing. We have lots of work to do on the federal level to extend and expand the Investment Tax Credit. The states have struggled with budget constraints and in this process, our industry has lost many state incentive programs. This kills markets that have been developed over the years. We’ve seen lots of our friends go out of business due to this lack of consistency in state funding. Another part of the financing issue is that the solar industry has it figured out and can provide cheap systems, while distributed wind is just now able offer a financing program through United Wind to allow for distributed wind to be more accessible. We have some catching up to do to be competitive with our friends in the solar industry, but we’re getting there!
What is DWEA working on currently?
We’re working on solutions to some of the financing issues, among other things. We’re leading the effort to extend the Investment Tax Credit and expand it to larger systems, while working with the Department of Energy to find more funding to support the growth of the distributed wind industry. We are also working in critical states to expand our market like CA, NY, CO, and HI. We are working with our members to influence local markets when there is an opportunity and we are developing materials to educate local decision makers on permitting and zoning practices. There’s lots of work to do, but we have a passionate industry that is relentless and willing to put the work and investment in that is required to find long-term success.
So much of the work DWEA is doing has to do with lobbying legislators. What can you tell us about how our representatives respond to renewable energy in general, and distributed wind in particular?
It’s easy to remember the stories of opponents of wind, but in general, there is an incredible amount of support for renewable energy. I think legislators just need to understand how to help in an effective, long-term way. I remember being on the Hill during our industry’s first annual lobby day event just a few years ago and watching our members have to explain the difference between distributed and utility scale wind. They don’t have to do that anymore. Legislators and staff understand the importance of both scales of wind and the benefit to on-site generation. They just need to hear from us more often and they need to know what we need to be successful. We encourage DWEA members to visit with their delegates often to update them on their businesses and the industry as a whole. You’d be amazed at how much of on impact developing a relationship with your congressperson can have on your business.
What has surprised you most about the work you’ve done with DWEA so far?
Thanks for asking that! The people. Absolutely, the most magnificent surprise and joy that I have found in my work at DWEA is the people. They are passionate and smart and capable and phenomenally resilient. I am inspired every single day by the DWEA members who get on our committee calls to learn about opportunities and to provide solutions to the challenges that lay ahead. Every day, I talk to business people who are motivated and driven to find success in distributed wind – for the industry as a whole, not just their own personal interests. They are a community that works together, even though they are often competitors. I am moved regularly and very humbled by the people in the distributed wind industry. That’s been a wonderful surprise.
The energy world employs far more men than women, and small wind is not immune to that imbalance. What do you think are the reasons for this?
Well, I’m not entirely sure what the reason is other than it is a technical field, which has historically been dominated by men. However, women are taking on these technical roles and moving into leadership positions more each year and we have groups like the Women of Wind Energy that have mentoring programs and sponsorships to help recruit brilliant and capable women to the industry every year. By the way, the DWEA Board has a handful of feisty, influential women, so it’s hard to see the imbalance when the women I work with are so powerful and present.
What do you say to anyone, male or female, who is interested in getting involved in the field?
Get involved! I’m not sure I can think of an industry that would be more rewarding. The technology is fascinating, the market is diverse, the policy landscape is intriguing and ever changing, and the people are some of the best I’ve ever known. Just be ready to drink lots of coffee, work long hours, and show up for happy hour when it’s time!
Thank you so much for talking with us today.