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Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Charging Up special edition: 2023 Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Awards

Canary joins the DOE in honoring 10 women who are making big strides and shaking things up in the clean energy sector.
By Eric Wesoff, Maria Virginia Olano

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A collage showing 10 women who are awardees in the DOE's C3E initiative for 2023

Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to wesoff@​canarymedia.​com.

In this special edition of Charging Up, we’re devoting our coverage to the 2023 awardees of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Initiative.

Leuwam Tesfai: A leader with a knack for relationship-building

Leuwam Tesfai is deputy executive director for energy and climate policy at the California Public Utilities Commission. She is receiving the U.S. DOE’s 2023 Clean Energy Education and Empowerment award in the Government category. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

I lead a team of over 200 professionals who work in everything from integrated resource planning, bringing more renewables to the grid, developing and building transmission, energy efficiency and rates, and financing for utilities.

Every role in my career journey has prepared me for the subsequent one, even when the next step wasn’t obvious. I’m an attorney by training. Early in my career, I gravitated toward law, but I didn’t jump straight into law school post-college. Instead, I undertook internships with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, engaging with the energy sector and diving into energy and environmental policy.

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I began my journey in the private sector, which helped me prepare for when I transitioned into public-sector work. For instance, I worked as a lawyer on siting and permitting for diverse generation facilities including hydropower, solar and natural gas, as well as with utilities across the country. I was also involved in intellectual property and the acquisition of cleantech companies, especially in the distributed energy domain. And just before joining the commission, I worked on the development of renewable energy markets, which helped pave the way for my roles at the California Public Utilities Commission.

I joined the CPUC in 2011. My legal background allowed me to work in the legal division and the administrative law judge division. I also had the privilege to serve as a legal and energy policy adviser for Commissioner Liane Randolph, and I was most recently the chief of staff for Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma, a position I was appointed to by Governor Newsom in 2019. This role saw me leverage my legal expertise and manage a team of advisers. Finally, in July of last year, I transitioned to my current role.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Early in my career, a piece of advice I received was to always be open to tasks and roles, even if they diverged from my primary responsibilities or comfort zone. As I’ve progressed, I strive to offer similar opportunities to others. For instance, someone might primarily handle energy efficiency, but their insights could be invaluable for integrated resources planning, given that energy efficiency is a cornerstone of that work. The key takeaway is that every task you undertake now will potentially shape your future.

Another piece of advice was to always carry a notepad and pen. Regardless of whether you’re just stepping out for a coffee or heading to the restroom, be prepared because you never know when a senior colleague might invite you into an impromptu meeting or share an insight on the fly. Such readiness can be a gateway to unforeseen opportunities.

What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

There aren’t a lot of people who look like me working in the energy sector around the country. I do want to note the CPUC as an exception, though. Four of our five commissioners are women and three of those commissioners are people of color, and our executive director, general counsel and acting chief of staff are all women. Yet there’s still a gap when it comes to racial diversity, and this is crucial to address.

I tie greater diversity to our ability to reach our greenhouse gas reduction goals. We need to have a diverse staff who are able to put together policy proposals and program designs to reach our customers. In California, 40% of residents speak a language other than English at home. So when a state is as diverse as California, our energy programs must be designed inclusively to reach every individual, because we need everyone on board — from the appliances they choose and the vehicles they drive to the times they use electricity.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

State governments offer invaluable experience that many might overlook, especially fresh out of college. I particularly want to highlight CPUCwe’re actively hiring. Thanks to a surge of climate and energy-focused legislation from the last legislative session, we’ve been granted more positions, and we’re deeply grateful for the continued support of the governor and the legislature.

What’s captivating about the CPUC is the room for personal and professional growth. Once onboard, you can immerse yourself in one area, and then pivot to another that piques your interest. My journey at the CPUC serves as testament — I’ve served in roles in the administrative law judge division, legal division and energy division, served under multiple commissioners, and now I’m in my current role.

California is a global climate leader, and I’ve had the opportunity over the years to work in South America as well as in Africa. But the highlight of this kind of work was last year when I attended COP27. I had people from all over the world approach me and our delegation asking about programs at the CPUC that they are watching and learning from. That really imprinted on me the importance of working at the Public Utilities Commission, and the impact that you can make, not just in California but nationally and globally.

What is your superpower? 

Relationship-building. I think mentorship is a key component of that. Throughout my career, I’ve had incredible mentors who I still work with. I now also take pride in mentoring others, from whom I learn different perspectives, and I get so much out of those relationships as well.

Outside of mentorship, understanding people on a personal level is also important. Building relationships and being at our different offices across the state so I can get to know people and remember who is working on what projects are all crucial to this work. 

The C3E Initiative 2023 awardees

The DOE just announced the winners of the 2023 Clean Energy Education & Empowerment (C3E) Awards, honoring 10 midcareer women working in clean energy for their leadership and achievements. The C3E Initiative aims to close the gender gap and increase the participation, leadership and success of women in their clean energy fields. Now in its 12th year, the initiative is led by DOE in collaboration with the MIT Energy Initiative, Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy and the Texas A&M Energy Institute. 

DOE is proud to recognize this year’s C3E Awardees, a group of innovators and trailblazers bringing unique perspectives and game-changing ideas to the fight for an equitable clean energy future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. Whether leading global research into groundbreaking new discoveries or championing environmental justice, these inspirational women are expanding our understanding of the clean energy transition and driving transformative breakthroughs across America’s economy.” 

Here are the 2023 C3E awardees, listed by category.

A smiling Black woman with shoulder-length dark hair and a burgundy top
Jameka Hodnett, C3E 2023 awardee in the Advocacy category

Advocacy: Jameka Hodnett is a passionate and dedicated advocate for climate justice. Through her work as the chief program officer with the Chisholm Legacy Project, she furthers climate policies that are clearing a pathway for a just energy transition. As a Local Climate Action Policy fellow with Elemental Excelerator and the African American Mayors Association, Hodnett is ensuring that the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act and Justice40 reach communities that have been historically underinvested in. Previously, Hodnett has served in leadership roles with nonprofit organizations including Dream.org, 350.org, League of Conservation Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.

A smiling woman with medium skin and shoulder-length dark hair wearing a dark orange top
Raisa Lee, C3E 2023 awardee in the Business category

Business: Raisa Lee is an engineer and solar energy developer who currently serves as the director of project development at Clearway Energy Group, a top national developer, owner and operator of renewable energy, where she oversees Clearway’s solar and storage projects in the western United States. Prior to Clearway, Lee was a project and development engineer at SunPower focused on the design of solar facilities. She has helped deploy more than 3 gigawatts of solar across more than 50 projects in her career to date.

A smiling woman with medium skin tone and shoulder-length dark, wavy hair wearing a purple blazer and black top
Evangelina Galvan Shreeve, C3E 2023 awardee in the Education category

Education: Evangelina Galvan Shreeve is the chief diversity officer and director of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, developing and stewarding a dynamic portfolio of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility and STEM education initiatives. She guides the development of educational programs and partnerships to create pathways for historically underrepresented groups in STEM fields. She led a pilot program called STEM Ambassadors that helps scientific and professional role models interact with a range of individuals, organizations and institutions. Her team engages about 1,500 students annually in PNNL internships that provide hands-on experience and research opportunities.

A smiling woman with light skin tone and pulled back hair wearing a denim chambray top
Piper Foster Wilder, C3E 2023 awardee in the Entrepreneurship category

Entrepreneurship: Piper Foster Wilder is the founder and CEO of 60Hertz Energy, a company that offers a computerized maintenance management system supporting fleets of distributed energy resources, from microgrids to solar to energy storage. Foster Wilder initially moved to Alaska to serve as deputy director of the Anchorage-based nonprofit Renewable Energy Alaska Project, where she became acquainted with the opportunities and challenges of maintaining remote renewable and diesel microgrids. Her prior service included work with the Colorado Energy Office and chairing the board of directors of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association.

A smiling woman with light skin tone and above shoulder length reddish brown hair wearing a copper top and metallic necklace
Erin Davis, C3E 2023 awardee in the Finance category

Finance: Erin Davis is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Enduring Planet, a financial technology platform focused on nondilutive, founder-friendly capital for climate entrepreneurs. In less than two years, Enduring Planet has invested in more than 25 clean energy and climate projects across the United States. Prior to Enduring Planet, Davis co-founded and served as the VP of Social Investment Managers & Advisors, establishing multiple funds worth $180 million to support off-grid energy and financial access.

A smiling Black woman with long curly dark hair wearing a red top and black jacket
Leuwam Tesfai, C3E 2023 awardee in the Government category

Government: Leuwam Tesfai serves as the deputy executive director for energy and climate policy at the California Public Utilities Commission, managing a staff of more than 200 analysts and engineers. In over 11 years at CPUC, Tesfai has played a pivotal role in diverse areas including clean energy procurement, transmission development, climate adaptation, reliability, energy efficiency, transportation electrification, complex energy finance, rate recovery and distributed energy resources. She is an active member of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and holds positions on the board of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, as well as the executive committee of the environmental law section of the California Lawyers Association.

A smiling Black woman with shoulder-length dark curly hair wearing metallic hoop earrings and a multicolored top
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Biney-Amissah, C3E 2023 awardee in the International category

International: Elizabeth (Lizzie) Biney-Amissah is the managing partner of TBrA X Ventures, an investment and advisory firm that is part of TheBoardroom Africa Group. She was most recently a partner at E3 Capital (formerly Energy Access Ventures), investing in decarbonized, decentralized and digitalized smart energy and infrastructure technology in sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout her career, Biney-Amissah has worked on both grid-scale and off-grid energy and infrastructure deals across Africa, including a 350-megawatt combined-cycle gas turbine in Ghana and a 50-megawatt portfolio of metrogrids for an off-grid utility in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A smiling woman with medium skin tone and shoulder length brown hair wearing a multicolored shirt
Melinda Baglio, C3E 2023 awardee in the Law category

Law: Melinda Baglio is the chief investment officer and general counsel at CleanCapital, a leader in clean energy investment. Baglio oversees all aspects of CleanCapital’s legal affairs, as well as the structuring and execution of capital market transactions for one of the leading commercial solar asset owners in the United States. Prior to joining CleanCapital, she was an attorney at Chadbourne & Parke and later at global law firm White & Case. Baglio’s passion for renewable energy stems from her time as an advocate for effective environmental policy at the New York Public Interest Research Group.

A smiling woman with a light skin tone and a short strawberry blonde bob haircut wearing a gray heathered jacket
Jacquie Ashmore, C3E 2023 awardee in the Social, Economic & Policy Innovation category

Social, Economic & Policy Innovation: Jacquie Ashmore is the executive VP of engineering at New Leaf Energy, leading a 60-person engineering team developing solar, energy storage and wind projects. Prior to this role, Ashmore co-founded Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, securing funding to build an interdisciplinary team of senior fellows, faculty and students. Ashmore works to bring equity, inclusion and justice to underrepresented groups through her board service with New England Women in Energy and the Environment, All In Energy and Browning the Green Space.

An Asian woman with a light skin tone and shoulder length dark hearing wearing brown glasses and a blue jacket
Jie Xiao, C3E 2023 awardee in the Technology Research & Innovation category

Technology Research & Innovation: Jie Xiao leads the Battery Materials & Systems Group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She is a Battelle Fellow and holds a joint appointment at the University of Washington, where she is a PNNL-UW Distinguished Faculty Fellow. She serves as the deputy director of DOE’s Innovation Center for Battery500 Consortium and the director of the Cathode-Electrolyte Interphase Consortium. Xiao leads initiatives focusing both on fundamental research and practical applications of energy storage materials and systems to accelerate deep decarbonization, and her protocols have changed how battery research is conducted and reported in the scientific community.

Check it out

Learn more about the C3E Initiative, the 2023 awardees and previous years’ winners. The 2023 winners will be honored at the 12th Annual C3E Women in Clean Energy Symposium and Awards on September 2728, 2023. Register here for the livestream of the event.

Eric Wesoff is the executive director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is chief of staff at Canary Media.