Interview with Nicole Steele, Co-Chair of Clean Energy for Biden
Catherine talks with Nicole about how climate change could be the issue that tips the scales of the upcoming presidential election, CE4B’s impressive accomplishments thus far, Joe Biden’s plan for an equitable, clean energy-led economic recovery & much more.
Part 1 Transcript
Catherine: I’m Catherine McLean Founder and CEO of Dylan Green, and today I have with me Nicole Steele, Principal and co-founder of Insight Power Partners. Thanks for joining me Nicole.
Nicole: Hi Catherine. Good to see you.
Catherine: Can you introduce yourself?! And talk a bit about your background and how you came to take on the co-chair of Clean Energy for Biden?
Nicole: Absolutely! I spent about 15 plus, maybe 20 years, in the clean energy, environment, housing, affordable housing, political space and so I’ve done everything from standing up programs for affordable housing agencies, to running political campaigns to being the Executive Director of a regional nonprofit organization that installs solar and does workforce training. My current adventure is to really do just that, and work on clean energy access and creating good clean energy jobs and build healthy communities around that, all with an equity lens. That’s what I am up to today and the reason that I got involved with Clean Energy for Biden, when it was launched back in April of this year, was because I realized that, from my perspective, the number one most important thing that has to happen this year to benefit the climate and to push the clean energy industry forward, is to get Joe Biden elected President. So that is how I got engaged with CE4B and it’s an amazing network, 5000 plus members and growing, and we are actively growing that, and we can talk a little bit about that shortly, with the goals of raising money for the campaign, really building a platform for the clean energy industry, and getting out the vote and really showing how important this election is to the clean energy industry.
Catherine: Absolutely. In 2020, 81% of Americans believe that the Earth has been warming over the last 100 years. Nearly two thirds of Americans believe the federal government should act more aggressively to combat climate change. Do you think this will translate into votes for Biden, given his strong climate platform?
Nicole: From my perspective, I absolutely think so. There was a really great New York Times article that came out, about a week ago, that really talked about where voting blocks are and what the important issues are today, and particularly in this election, and climate change came up as number two. So I really think that climate change is becoming incredibly important across the board, so not just Democrats but also Republicans are seeing the effects of climate change personally. They’re being impacted by natural disasters, and seeing that their utility bills are going up because they’re having to run their air conditioning longer, whatever it might be, but they’re truly seeing personal impacts and I think that’s one reason why that voting block is growing, exponentially. Then, the other sort of element I would say, is, recently, after Biden announced his climate plan, and his clean energy jobs plan, there was this huge groundswell of activists supporting the Biden campaign. So an element within the campaign, called Climate Voters for Biden, was created and is the second largest affinity group within the campaign today. So, CE4B, or Clean Energy for Biden, which is what I am co-chairing, is coordinating directly with those Climate Voters for Biden. Just behind Women for Biden, just as another key point, we do our national phone banks on a weekly basis, and we had our second one this past Tuesday, and we had over 230 registered to participate in that phone bank, where we called climate voters in Arizona and we called over 1500 individuals in just a 45 minute time frame. We are going to be doing that moving forward and it’s really showing that people really highlight climate as a top issue area. Then, also, the campaign sees us as a huge opportunity and sort of partner on this, and that they see the value that CE4B has been able to bring to the table and really motivate the industry, and really see opportunity for that industry to grow with a Biden administration.
Catherine: Very exciting. I love those stats. I want to switch gears, slightly, to Covid. How do you think Biden’s approach to the Covid recovery will ensure growth of clean energy jobs while ensuring former fossil fuel employees are not left behind?
Nicole: Yeah, from my perspective, and not speaking on behalf of the campaign, all of the climate and clean energy recommendations have that recovery lens. I would say that, even more specifically, the Clean Energy for Biden work has that recovery recommendation lens, and that everything that we are sort of providing as recommendations to the campaign, either for day 1 actions, or first 100 day actions, or even a 4 year administrative plan, is going to focus on good jobs that result in an opportunity to join a union, and having strong labor standards around the growth of the industry, so then also job creation. Growing huge segments of the industry, so that there are jobs, and then sort of knitting that together, around what do job training programs look like, what do career pathway programs look like, and entrepreneurship hubs look like, then also pre-apprentice and apprenticeship programs. So that, we’re not only providing good jobs, but also jobs in communities that need just transition, they’re a former fossil fuel community and really needing to make sure that we are focused on communities that would be impacted by this new clean energy revolution. Then, also, in Biden’s plan, that was announced earlier this summer, he specifically called out frontline communities, and that frontline communities can be communities of color, it can be low-income communities, it can be communities that are impacted by Covid, it can be communities that are impacted by recent natural disasters, or even natural disasters that we are still recovering from. From that 40% of the dollars allocated in the plan, well it’s leveraged so it’s not like we are going to pay $2 trillion dollars, but it’s a $2 trillion dollar plan and 40% of those dollars are intended to go towards those frontline communities, that does include that Covid lens, and really building a much stronger economy as we start to recover from this pandemic.
Catherine: Yeah, I’m really glad that you addressed that because one of my questions was around Biden’s climate plan and addressing racial and environmental justice. Is there anything that you wanted to add to that?
Nicole: Absolutely! I think from a CE4B perspective, we have been incredibly intentional in building a diverse representation in the clean energy community, and then also what is our role in bringing in other networks to diversify this movement. We’ve been very intentional around who are our co-chairs, who are representing us on leaderships, our executive committee, and then also highlighting topics around environmental justice, equity, building an equitable future, and black CEOs and what are opportunities there, and what have been the challenges, and how can we support more people of color in leadership roles, then also highlighting a diversity of voices. CE4B has been incredibly intentional around bringing equity, inclusion and diversity into our lens, and I would say, honestly, that’s how I got really involved as a co-chair. It was on our first call and publicly highlighted how white and how male that call looked. So right from the very beginning we made that shift. I would say, our coordination with the campaign, there’s been recognition and it’s really been made clear to us that making sure that people that have been doing work in the environmental justice space really do get a platform, and really do have their voices heard, as those plans are created. There was a whole environmental justice roundtable that was created before his plan was announced this summer. From my perspective, we can always do better and we will continue to do work in this space but I think the campaign is listening and is definitely integrated that frontline, low income, community of color aspect into his plans moving forward.
Part 2 Transcript
Catherine: Can you talk a bit about Insight Power Partners and how you help create more jobs for lower middle income people?
Nicole: Sure. Insight Power Partners is a partnership of three former grid-alternatives executive directors, and we come to the table with a mission and a vision to empower communities, to create programs that make clean energy more accessible, and also create good jobs as part of that, while building out healthy communities. We have partners that are nonprofits, that are industry leaders, that are state and local governments. Really, the high level goal of the work we are doing is to make sure that the work of serving low-income communities and serving frontline communities is not separate from the industry but within the industry, and that industry partners are integrating that work into what they do. We are working on building out many different models, that allow for all markets to be serviced, sometimes it is creating financing products, sometimes it’s creating new marketing strategies, sometimes it’s creating a plan to stand up an entity that’s going to help with job training and workforce development, or building out a curriculum to do the same, but really it’s to shift the industry to be inclusive and to service all markets and make clean renewable energy accessible to everyone.
Catherine: Other than voting, how can people get involved to support Clean Energy for Biden, if interested? You mentioned a bit about the phone banks, you want to tell us about some other initiatives they can get involved in?
Nicole: Absolutely! I think I mentioned before as well, that Clean Energy for Biden is a 5000 member network. I would say number one is going to CleanEnergyforBiden.com and sign up. We are actively growing our membership! And are aiming to attempt to double that. One of the reasons why that’s so important is because the campaign sees how large our constituency is and how large that membership is and that really gives us a lot of clout in terms of really advocating for what’s next, and helping build a platform for actions on day one, and really helping build a platform for actions on the first 100 days. So the larger we are able to grow that network, and that’s active in raising money and participating in our voter outreach effort, the more clout we’ll continue to build as an industry that is important and create jobs and we’re protecting the work that we do today but there’s this incredible opportunity to grow it as well. So number one sign up. Number two, if you haven’t participated in a fundraiser yet, we would love to get you involved. We’ve had really great fundraisers from John Podesta and Ernie Moniz, and we just had one earlier this week from Lisa Jackson and Representative Kathy Castor, who led the Climate Committee out of the House, there’s incredible opportunities to be part of these conversations. And it’s just so much fun to see how many perspectives there are, and help the campaign raise money and push the message forward. Number three, participate in those phone banks, making sure that your friends and family have a voting plan, it’s absolutely imperative, we need as many people involved in the get out the vote effort between now and the election, I think we are at 62 days or 61 days at this point, so that’s going to fly by, and early voting starts tomorrow, September 4th for North Carolina, so it’s upon us, it’s happening. We really need to be doing that work right now. Last but not least, I’ve alluded to recovery recommendations, and policy work on the CE4B side, we will be releasing a set of recommendations, not endorsed by the network, because we can’t get all 5000 members to endorse, but this is good information and good ideas that will be presented to the transition team, knocking on all the wood, on how to move the clean energy, and combat climate change, and create good jobs forward on day one. So that is also another way to participate in the work that we’re doing.
Catherine: Great! It’s very exciting! I wish you all the best, and I will do everything I can to help, including crossing my fingers.
Nicole: The other thing I will say is that I think sometimes phone banking can be scary, and it’s not. Just think of it as human to human, you’re just calling somebody else to find out if they are interested in voting and have a voting plan and if they want to talk climate and clean energy. Maybe the first couple of phone calls are a little awkward but I would highly encourage, if you haven’t done a phone bank, to give it a try. We’re looking for as many folks possible to participate and we’ll have almost daily opportunities in the coming weeks.
Catherine: That’s great. Thank you so much Nicole for all your hard work.
Nicole: Thank you! Thank you for spreading the word.