Interview with Jennifer Goodwillie & Melissa Peterson, Vice Presidents at Orsted
Congrats, Ørsted, on completing the 367 MW Western Trail Wind Farm in Texas – the largest onshore wind project to date! I was excited to get to speak with some of the award-winning brains behind this project: Jennifer Goodwillie & Melissa Peterson. We also spoke about what it takes to succeed in origination & project development in wind energy, the value of mentorship (shout out to Becky Diffen for being an incredible mentor!) & WRISE, & learning to embrace a more circuitous career path than anticipated.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Melissa Peterson, Vice President of origination Power Marketing at Orsted. And Jennifer Goodwillie Vice President of project development at Orsted. Thank you for joining me, ladies.
Jennifer: Thanks for having us.
Melissa: Thank you.
Catherine: Orsted is like such a great client of mine, I really loved working with you all. And I really want to highlight some of the great work that you all are doing for our industry. So there’s been a couple of awards that you will have recently been announced for. So Jen, I know you were featured in A Word About Wins 2021 Women’s Power List as one of the top 100 Women Working in Wind. And Melissa, you were featured in Kaios, Top 21 in 21 Women in Power List. So congratulations on those accolades. So tell me a little bit about your roles at Orsted. Melissa, do you want to start?
Melissa: Sure, yeah. Thanks, Catherine. So as Catherine mentioned, I’m the Vice President of Power Marketing and Origination. So really, what that means is, I’m kind of the sales arm. And so the role that I have is my team is sort of tasked with going out and securing long term revenue contracts, typically in the form of power purchase agreements for our portfolio. And so we work with a whole variety of clients, anything from your standard utility, like the Dominion energies of the world, or the Excels all the way to corporate customers, who are trying to decarbonize and achieve sustainability goals, folks like Microsoft, Pepsi, Amazon, etc. And so, yeah, we’re really kind of a forward looking face in the market and really engaging with a lot of people that are interested in how they can get involved in the renewable space themselves.
Jennifer: Yeah, I’m the VP of Project Development. And my team is tasked with looking and identifying new sites, and then maturing those, de-risking the areas so that eventually, ideally, they can get built. It’s a very collaborative role. We work with teams early on to identify where opportunities are available, and what will be attractive to our onshore business model. And then maturing those is also just a very iterative process. So we work collaboratively across the organization, and externally with a lot of stakeholders, as well to see the project succeed.
Catherine: Yeah, that’s great. And so tell me about some of these projects that you will have worked on recently, I know that you completed an enormous project 367 megawatt project in Texas, which I believe is the largest, onshore wind project to date. Tell us a little bit about it.
Jennifer: Sure, so that is Western Trail. And that is a Greenfield development project that was started a few years ago. It’s also a good example of how Melissa and my teams work together, we developed the project, and decided to move it forward, de-risked it doing environmental studies, securing the real estate, interconnection, position, etc. Once we are determined that it’s something we’re going to move forward with, but it’s a project that Orsted wants to build, it can get actively marketed to customers. And so secured a number of PPAs, that I will let Melissa speak to, but all that kind of plays into the project’s ultimate commercial success. So, it was our biggest project, a huge accomplishment and a lot of work by our EPC team as well, just getting that installed in short order.
Catherine: It’s great. Do you want to highlight anything, Melissa?
Melissa: Sure Western Trails is a really good project. It’s one of the largest that we have in our portfolio, it was really an interesting one from a contracting side, because we actually sort of what we call self aggregated. So we have actually three distinct different PPAs on the project with three different customers. But we brought all three of them together. And what’s really exciting about it is that some of those counterparties had existing relationships with one another, various retail providers, and things like that. So there was a lot of synergies with the entire package when we brought it all together. But yeah, three very large corporate customers. And I’ll add just a little color on that for your listeners. A lot of these corporates are being driven by sustainability goals. So it’s really an exciting time in the industry, because historically, a lot of people buying renewable energy was utilities, but we’ve really seen a shift in the dynamics as more corporate stuff come in. And so now they’re looking to buy those renewables so that when you go to the store to buy your Pepsi product, or your Hormel Bologna or whatever that some of their energy that they’re using to create those products is being made from renewables, which is exciting.
Catherine: Yeah, that’s really, really great. And I would assume that some of these companies are trying to put that on their website and kind of use it as some of their PR to let their customers know that they’re taking this stuff seriously.
Melissa: Yeah, I’m 100%. I mean, definitely a marketing part of it. A lot of it’s also driven by shareholders the vast majority of these companies are publicly traded and the shareholders are listening to the consumers and the consumers voices. And the consumers are really the ones who are asking to say, I want my products to have a variety of sustainability initiatives, anything from butter packaging, but even how do you create your products? And are you creating that product using energy? That’s broad power from the grid? Or are you doing it in a cleaner, more renewable way. And so kind of all those factors is really exciting, because it’s encouraging boards and shareholders and owners of these really large publicly traded companies to take a look at their sustainability practices and realize that if everybody does their small piece, we can actually make a pretty big difference.
Catherine: Yeah, that’s really great. I want to talk about some of the challenges and trends that you all are seeing. So you’ve both been in the industry for the majority of your career? What are some of the more recent challenges and trends you’ve been encountering?
Melissa: Do you want to go first, Jen, or should I?
Jennifer: Sure. I think that we’re past the point now, where a lot of the more like the low hanging fruit has been developed. And as we reach higher levels of penetration, that also means that there’ll be some unique challenges to overcome on the grid. And so I think we’re at a really crucial point where we’re going to need to see some changes in market transmission design, I think the customer landscape is evolving quite a bit. And again, like Melissa is expert there, with projects, I think, because that low hanging fruit has been taken to areas that were developing or sometimes more populated, or an areas that were resistant to development at first. And so perhaps were skipped over, or areas that just don’t have as much infrastructure period, and so don’t have as much exposure to renewables. And from that standpoint, I think getting the public acceptance is a lot more difficult. So, variety of challenges. I think when I think about risks, right now, the two biggest ones are transmission capacity, and being able to get through the pretty difficult process throughout the ISOs. And a lot of congestion on the grid. And then the second biggest risk is just getting through local permitting and getting that social license to operate, which I think is, it’s hard because there aren’t any right answers. And so navigating it is pretty complex.
Catherine: Do you want to add anything to that, Melissa?
Melissa: Sure. Yeah I would definitely agree with what Jen says, and kind of dovetailing off of that a little bit. One of the challenges that I think the industry has continually faced as a whole is that everything is done still on a very regional level, we don’t have a national energy policy to support this, many of our counterparties sort of countries, I would say, that are kind of in the same boat, as United States have taken those steps forward and made more of national energy policies, but we still have a very piecemeal style energy policy. And I’m not talking just about tax credits. That’s another discussion. And frankly renewables have shown over the last 10-15 years, and as costs have dropped that they could stand on their own two legs, in a lot of ways, it’s really more of a broader discussion and strategic discussion on how are we going to as a country, work together to identify those areas that are best suited for renewable development, and then create that infrastructure, transmission, etc, to get those to the areas of load, because where we have load in the hands of the countries on the edges there, we don’t have access to the renewables. And so it’s this constant challenge. And without having a national energy policy that can sort of put all the pieces together, we end up with state and regional policies that more often than not, don’t communicate with their neighboring states and regional policies. And so you kind of get a piecemeal approach, which ultimately doesn’t deliver the most cost effective, the best use projects and products all the time for the whole country.
Catherine: I want to talk a little bit about how you all got into this industry. Because I know you both had sort of different roads, if you like, and I think it would be interesting for our audience, women especially, who are thinking about transitioning, it’s the clean energy industry, maybe not, maybe from a STEM background or maybe not from a STEM background. Jen, can you start with how you got into this space?
Jennifer: Yes, I was always really interested in, I guess what I’ll call the environmental space. And so from a pretty young age, I knew I wanted to do something within that. In college, I had some exposure to different renewable energy groups, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. But when I decided to go to law school, one of the reasons why I was really interested in Texas was because it is on its own grid, you can do a lot of experiments. Texas had a lot of wind. So I didn’t have an exact plan, but I thought that’d be a great place to go. And they had a lot of at the time, like the few renewable energy classes that they had was more than any other law school had for sure. So it was attractive to me for that reason. And then I ended up just getting an internship at a small renewable energy company during law school, I really pursued that. And they didn’t need a lawyer. So I actually ended up not practicing right out of law school, which was, I think, pretty horrific to the career services office. They really wanted me to not do that. But I had a lot of great mentors that I talked to, including Becky Diffen, who you had on your show recently, and she was one of my teachers, actually. And she, I talked to her about it. And she said there’s a career here, there’s a path here, and it’s a good time for the industry. So is it the path that you typically take during law school? No, but that doesn’t mean that that typical path has to be yours, you’re clearly really, really passionate about renewable energy development. And the company that I was at was a great fit for me. So I stayed, I did practice law, eventually. And that’s a kind of longer story. And one that I don’t regret, because I did get a lot of good background. And I worked with a lot of different clients, which is ultimately how I ended up that Orsted. And a lot of great people, but I knew after practicing for five years, both outside counsel inside counsel that I’m a developer at heart, it’s what I want to be doing. I really love my job. And I love being able to both kind of grow a team that can also do that job and see the different elements of it and kind of continue to deliver pipeline projects for companies and see more renewable energy get onto the grid. So it was definitely not inevitable. But now that I’m here, it kind of feels like it was a natural progression.
Catherine: Yeah, yeah. I love that. I love that story. Melissa?
Melissa: Yeah, I came through the industry, I actually have a background in STEM, both my undergrad and graduate degrees are in biology and conservation ecology type work. When I was pursuing those, I honestly wasn’t thinking about renewable energy at all. And I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I initially thought actually I wanted to go into academia, which is why I got a master’s degree and very early on in my master’s program, I realized that I did not want to be a professor. And so I ended up just kind of getting that programming and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I was fortunate enough that out of graduate school, I was able to land a job at a very small nonprofit that’s based in Minneapolis, where I’m originally from, called Windustry, which just really focuses on landowner education and landowner engagement. This was about 2007. And there was kind of development was still pretty new, a lot of developers sort of going around the upper Midwest, Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, etc talking to landowners trying to get them to sign leases, but people didn’t really have resources or databases or understand what that meant for them as a landowner. And so this organization I was working for built out a toolbox, and was really just kind of trying to be the resource for the landowners. And so that was my first exposure, I didn’t know much, but definitely learned a lot quickly on the ground, I traveled all over the Upper Midwest going to local Lions clubs, local rec centers, just talking to landowners and learning about this industry. And I just honestly, like, fell in love and was like, This is really exciting. For me, it was the perfect combination of the green part, the environmental part, which is what I had kind of driven my decision making in my education years to wanting to do something in the STEM field or the ecology field. But it also had that commercial aspect. And it was a sophisticated business, and it was growing, and there was opportunity. And so those two things kind of met up when I first started into the renewables industry. Shortly after that, after about a little bit, I joined a company that is now called EDF at the time, it was called the next go. It’s a very large European company, in a developer capacity. And so I really worked my way up the development pipeline, there I really learned a lot of the stuff that Jen and her team work on how to do permitting, how to do site control, how to kind of do all those things. And so that work over those seven years led me to wanting to move into the origination space, which I did in 2014. And really kind of took over the commercial side. And it’s been a great mix, because when I came over into the origination side or kind of the sales side, I sort of seen it tangentially in my development, years of my development experience and had worked with the originators at EDF and really said, Oh, that looks like an interesting job. And it was right around the same time that there was kind of this beginning of this momentum and this growth of a lot of these corporate customers who are looking for renewable and so it really was this opening point in the origination space where previously the only people buying renewable energy were utilities because states were mandating them to to the shift in customer saying, hey, I want to do this. And so it was a really exciting time and I’ve really just been kind of developing and working within that space since then. So there’s really no one way to enter the renewable space there’s a lot of ways you can get in. But one thing I have learned is that there’s really a lot of opportunities. And you can go in a lot of different directions once you have some of that experience and knowledge and learn how it all works.
Catherine: I think it’s really important for people to know, because I think there’s like this innate pressure, I think a lot of people feel when they’re in university that they need to figure it out, and like they need to have the answer then. And everybody’s journey is different. I think sometimes you need to like, not necessarily have such a tight plan and just like, let things happen a little kind of like feel your way, kind of like I think all three of us have done with our career and like, be open to opportunities, things that can happen along the way. So I’m really glad that you all shared that journey. Hopefully, it helps some other people want to talk about what you think it takes to succeed in development and origination in our industry.
Melissa: I think it takes an open mind. I mean, to be honest it’s an ever changing industry, things are evolving. In the 15 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, a lot of changes. And I think if you come into it with an open mind, and a willingness to constantly learn and constantly challenge yourself I have a very wonderful position at Orsted, I have a lot of responsibility. And I still don’t consider myself an expert, because I think every day I’m trying to learn something new. And so I think that’s really important to be flexible and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Because there’s just still a lot of growth here. And I think that’s probably the key, because if you get stuck in kind of the old way of doing it, then you’re going to miss a lot of the great opportunities. That’d be my one suggestion, I guess my second would be really, it’s important, it is really, really important to build relationships with people. All around the company that you work for, you’ll learn a lot from them, you’ll learn other roles you can have, and there’s nobody it doesn’t matter what their position is, if they’re more senior, more junior from you, it’s really important, I think, to prioritize relationships with the people in your company and the people that you work with and the people in the industry and really make those strong relationships and work well with people that will help a lot of challenges overcome if you kind of have a good network around you.
Catherine: Jen, any to add?
Jennifer: Yeah, I 100% agree on the network piece. And also, the reality is that what Melissa and I do is both necessary, they’re both necessary to make the project succeed. And there’s a million other functions that are also necessary. Our roles are very collaborative. And I think that’s true of really everyone that works on projects. And so being able to learn from others, work well with others is really important for developments. And I think to work in the industry, honestly, and I also think it’s a pretty small industry still. So that’s one thing I try to remind people of is that it’s tight knit people know each other, it’s really important to keep that in mind, when you’re networking at the jobs that you have earlier in your career, even if you’re not going to be there forever. Just remember that that is probably a relationship you’ll have for a long time. Because you’ll probably run into those people again, that was something that we were all taught in law school as well, like, it’s kind of a small community, make sure that you’re keeping that in mind. And it’s true. I think a lot of people do a good job of that. But in other industries, I think sometimes there’s the mindset of like, well, I’m gonna leave this job, and then I’m not gonna see these people again, that’s not the mentality that you should bring, I think to a renewable energy position, because it is still quite small. And I think the second piece is absolutely the learning, keeping an open mind, things are constantly changing. And if you think you know everything, you’re probably missing quite a bit. And so the people that I’m most inspired by, and most kind of trying to model and in my career have always been those that have really senior positions, but are still asking questions all the time, very curious and wanting to learn from others. So as much as I think we can model that I definitely tried to, but also for people younger, just getting started just not being afraid to ask those questions is extremely important.
Catherine: Yeah,I love that. That’s some really good tips there. So don’t burn bridges, regardless of if the industry is big or small, I think is good advice. I want to talk about some networking that’s worked well for you all. I know, Jen, that you’re really involved in WRISE and very respected with them. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do with WRISE and if you’re involved with anything else that might be good for women to be aware of in our industry?
Jennifer: Yeah, I’ve been involved with WRISE since I was just out of school and I started leading the Austin chapter, and I still am. But we’re not very active right now. And I am looking for people to help grow that. So side note, and if anyone lives in Austin and is interested, please reach out, a little plug there. But I think that has been just absolutely critical to the network that I formed. I’ve really enjoyed that. I think the second piece that I’d say is, there’s a lot of really wonderful industry conferences. People are very open to having meetings. And so I reached out to people before that I don’t personally know but that I’ve kind of seen them talk before I just know of them and asked for one on one meetings at conferences that I suspect they’ll be at, because again, it is a fairly small industry, before we kind of stopped going to conferences, you kind of knew who was going to be at conferences, and I think one on ones are a really great way. It’s not there’s no pressure to it, no transaction, you’re not asking for a job. I’m just trying to get to know people. And I’ve always learned a lot from those. So that’s the other tip I have for people to broaden their network is just reach out and see if someone’s willing to meet with you.
Catherine: Great, Melissa.
Melissa: Yeah, I would echo a lot of what Jen says, I mean, there’s a lot of different ways you can get involved, if you’re a female or not in various, sort of renewable energy groups WRISE is one great one for women. There’s also you know, for example, like we here in Charlottesville, where I live, have a Renewable Energy Alliance, that I sit on the board out that works as a member of and so that’s a much more regional one. So I’m sure in areas that your listeners might be. And there’s smaller kind of local, those types of local coalition’s that you can get involved in and meet just what are the member companies doing in your area? What type of roles do people have? Just kind of put yourself out there. And then like Jen said the vast majority of people are very, very nice and very, very willing to engage and very willing to meet with you and talk with you. We all start from somewhere, we all have somewhere to go. And so we all want to learn from one another. And so what I found is, even if you know that one person maybe can’t help you or meet with you, they’re often willing to suggest somebody else that might help and then somebody else and then eventually you can kind of really build out your network network. So I would really encourage people to do that. And then one thing I would encourage women to do is really make sure when you’re selling yourself, you really are selling yourself we’re always I think it’s common for us to sometimes underestimate our skills, I know I do it, and I try to play down things that I’ve done myself. And it’s important to not not over extended and talk about things you don’t know, but you’ve worked hard, and people have done good work. And be sure to highlight that stuff. Because you’re your number one champion, and it’s important for you to, to go out and champion yourself and so don’t don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed or, or gloating or anything like that are definitely not something that I’ve struggled with in my career is how to kind of show my show my channel or my experience without feeling like I’m being too in people’s face.
Catherine: I think that’s definitely a challenge I have every day. And this imposter syndrome. Like continuing to, like put yourself down in your sort of self doubt. And I think for some bizarre reason, I think it’s almost worse in a way as you get older, like, you must have more to be proud of, and it’s fair- kind of like you like regressed in a weird way. Good advice for anyone. So the last thing I want to talk about today is mentorship. And just how mentorship has been instrumental in your career. And this could be men that have been mentors in your life or women, but I’m curious who they are. And how they became your mentors and advice that you have for other people who are looking to maybe mentor someone else or be a mentee?
Jennifer: I think, Melissa, I’ve actually heard you speak on this. And it sounds like it’s been important to you as well. And it is so fundamental. So like, it doesn’t need to be formal. I think identifying people that you aspire to be like, even if it’s not their exact career path, or that maybe have a lot of wisdom in your industry and establishing relationships with those people, that’s been one of the most rewarding I wouldn’t be where I am without a lot of help from a lot of people that I’m so thankful for. I think that’s one element of it is looking for people that are at a higher level than you. Another thing that WRISE does, that I really have gotten a lot out of is peer mentoring. And so they have established peer mentoring groups. They are formal programs and from that I’ve got a lot of really great relationships, especially ones that are local, with women that are across my field and I think mentorship is valuable for anyone. I found that as I’ve kind of progressed in my career that the issues that I’ve faced trying to kind of get to the next level as a woman are things that my peers face too, and having someone to talk to about those things and talk about the challenges and how to navigate them. It’s so helpful, right? Because you’re not going to want to talk to your co workers necessarily about that. It’s not sometimes appropriate. And so having that network of peers, has been at this stage of my career, just as valuable as having that network of mentors who I want to be like when I grow up. And I still think both are really important. And I still and there’s both men and women, by the way, like, I always encourage women to not just focus on female mentors, look at both, don’t limit yourself, there’s no reason to do that. And build relationships, because they are really strong, they will kind of help propel you through your career. And they’re very rewarding, right, we all spend a lot of time in our jobs, we all care about it a lot. And some of those relationships are the most rewarding in my life. So I think that looking at it, not just as a transactional relationship, but really as a meaningful relationship is how I try to encourage people to approach it, I think there’s a lot of formal programs, and those are important. But if they’re too formal, I think that detracts from the overall relationship.
Melissa: I think Jen said it great, and honestly, I would consider Jen, one of my sort of peer mentors I mean, there’s a lot of things I talked to her about. And so it’s definitely an important point to note, it’s not just people who are more senior than you, it’s actually not even necessarily in the same role, I would highly encourage, like, look at people who are, if they’re more senior than you just that you want to behave like they don’t have to have the same job as you, or the same function as you just didn’t work in your position, just who kind of conduct business in a way that you think is admirable behave in a way that you aspire to be like, and then try to reach out to those people. It’s been really fun in the industry. I’ve said this before, and other kind of conversations I’ve had with people. But I’ve definitely seen a group of women that sort of have grown up in the industry, alongside myself, and some men too. But now we’re all starting to kind of land at various companies and have more senior positions. And it’s really exciting to watch those people that you started off very junior. And nobody knew what was going on. And you’ve sort of encouraged each other and grown with each other. So I’ll see them at different places and following their paths. And so just having that strong network of people that you can go to with different questions, doesn’t have to just be one person that’s formal, you might go to one person for one type of question and one person for a different type of advice, because different people have different skill sets that are strongest. And so definitely important to kind of think outside the box. When you’re thinking about mentorship and what you’re trying to really get out of it. I think that’s the most important thing, like what am I trying to gain out of this? Do I just want advice on my next career move? Or do I want long term advice and how to balance you my family with my career, right? Those are kind of two different things. And two different people may have helpful advice and how to manage those things.
Catherine: I think it’s also important to remember what you can give as well, because they think 100%, a lot of times when people get in touch with me and they’re like, I want you to be my mentor, and I was like, what value can I add to your life? Right now goes back to what we were talking about earlier, that kind of self doubt, like how could I possibly offer you any advice, and I almost need them to kind of coax me into being like, this is what you could add to my life and career advice so far. So I think it’s also important to think about how you can help others. One thing I just want to say quickly. And the reason why we’re doing this together as a group is because one of the things I’ve noticed the most about our space is how supportive women are of each other. My best friend works in investment banking, and I’m constantly like, “Network with the women!” And she’s like, “They don’t want to talk to me.” And so like, I think we’re in just like a really like lovely place where we have so many women in the industry who are so supportive of each other. Like when I invited Jen to the podcast, she’s like, Melissa should do it, too. She’s awesome. Let’s make sure she’s included and I just think it’s so indicative, I’m getting a response that is so indicative of how I really feel this space is like, and I think it’s just kind of unique actually. Any comments?
Jennifer: Yeah, I think that’s true. Also just have a lot of people in the industry. And I think that that is in part because I noted like our Northern Star was this kind of desire to really have an impact on something that we care a lot about. And so I think that even though of course, like people are achievement driven and have their own career goals, of course, we all are. I think it’s a very collaborative industry. In part, because we all have this, like, bigger thing that we’re working toward. And it’s these projects are hard like, takes a lot of people to come together and build not just projects, but portfolios of projects. And so I have to be collaborative. And I think that means that we tend to attract people that know they’re gonna be working with others. They’re successful because they’ve successfully worked with others to make projects succeed, and have in the back of their mind this desire to really affect change. So that’s, to me what’s been unique is like, yes, for sure the women in this space are so welcoming. I love the community, but the men too. It’s just overall a very welcoming community, and one that I really enjoy being part of.
Catherine: Awesome. Yeah, do you want to add Jen?,
Melissa: Yeah, Jen said it well. Yeah, exactly. No shame on investment banking, but you’re not working in this industry to get rich. And so there’s something else that’s driving everybody here. And it really is a Northstar. And people really do believe in the work that they’re doing is making a difference beyond themselves. And they believe in what they’re trying to achieve. And so I think that just changes the dynamic every day of the industry, to Jen’s point, it’s just super welcoming, male, female, binary, whatever. Everybody is just super welcoming to everybody in the industry and is very willing to try to work together and help one another as opposed to be less collaborative.
Catherine: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. I really appreciate it ladies.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Melissa: Thank you, Catherine.