OK, so we still don’t have our first woman U.S. president. It bums me out, but I am hopeful that long-overdue, historic day is in the country’s near future. What we do have now, though, is the first woman president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Welcome, Abby!
Abigail “Abby” Ross Hopper officially took the reins at SEIA in the middle of January. Tom Kimbis, who did an excellent job serving as the national trade group’s interim president for almost a year, is staying at the association as executive vice president and general counsel.
During a recent conference call, the new SEIA leader was jovial, laughing when I asked for formal permission to refer to her as Abby. However, don’t let her friendliness fool you; in addition to being an overall nice person, she is also a self-proclaimed “policy wonk” who is undoubtedly ready to fight for the U.S. solar industry.
Abby has gained invaluable skills and experience in leadership roles at the state and federal level. Prior to joining SEIA, she served as director of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and before that, she led the Maryland Energy Administration. In both positions, Abby helped pave the way for what are slated to be the country’s first offshore wind farms. That’s no small task, given that the young offshore wind industry faces fierce opposition and has been bogged down by a host of environmental and regulatory issues.
Furthermore, her impressive résumé includes stints as energy advisor to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and deputy general counsel to the Maryland Public Service Commission. Those jobs also required energy policy expertise, and Abby became well acquainted with all things solar.
As other publications and industry insiders have rightfully pointed out, Abby isn’t the only woman to have a lead role in the U.S. solar sector.
Take, for example, Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Smart Electric Power Association. Or Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation. Or Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of U.S. nonprofit installer GRID Alternatives.
On the state level, there are hard-working solar advocates, such as Bernadette Del Chiaro, the executive director of CALSEIA who helped protect net metering in California last year, and Rebecca Cantwell, the executive director of COSEIA who recently spearheaded a major settlement deal in Colorado.
Outside the nonprofit realm, there are also solar company leaders, such as Lynn Jurich, CEO and co-founder of installer Sunrun, and Claudia Wentworth, CEO and co-founder of mounting supplier Quick Mount PV.
The list goes on.
Then there are groups, such as Women in Solar Energy, that are dedicated to the advancement of women in the industry. In addition, Women of Wind Energy is currently expanding its scope to include the solar and other clean energy sectors.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a female to be a feminist; you just need to support equal rights. As the son of a single mother and brother to an older sister, I have witnessed first-hand the power, perseverance and intelligence of women. Unfortunately, women are often grossly undervalued and mistreated in society, which is why protests, such as the Women’s March movement in January, continue over 100 years after the days of Susan B. Anthony and her trailblazing contemporaries.
The incessant, lingering need for progress – that’s the reason I was so excited by Abby’s appointment. The solar industry is one of a few that encourage such diversity among their leaders, just like it aims to diversify energy options around the world. Let’s keep moving forward.